So the long-awaited change of power in the DC Universe finally happened, with VP Dan Didio taking charge, Mike Carlin returning to editing (whether you think his statement that it was his choice is spin or not, I know Mike and know he has always enjoyed editing), and editors Dan Raspler and DC mainstay Andy Helfer being shown the door. (Admittedly not under the best circumstances.)
It's of course been touted in the comics press as a major shakeup. But it isn't, not yet. Didio has been tacitly in charge up there for months now. I know Rich Johnston took some heat over at Pulse for claiming to have known months ago that Dan and Andy were on the chopping block and uncharacteristically sparing the rumor from print, but there's no reason to disbelieve Rich, since most of the professional community had heard the same thing. The only surprising thing about the firings was that they didn't happen when the last couple did. (I can't even remember who was fired now.) Of course, editors come and editors go, particularly in the last few years, and losing two is nothing like the several hundred a week Marvel used to dump in their bankruptcy days. Carlin seems to have stepped in to pick up Raspler's slack, and Helfer's standard output was pretty much down to LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT and DOOM PATROL, with the latter being cancelled anyway, so there's not much to send shockwaves through DC there. (Presumably, LODK will end up back in the Bat offices.) Where this leaves Andy's proposed new line of books is anyone's guess, but limbo would be the likeliest one.
The real answer to whether this is a true shakeup or not lies down the road a few months, when we see if Didio injects a strong influence into the line. The last change along these lines at DC, when Dick Giordano left his executive editor post to be replaced by the troika of Mike Carlin, Denny O'Neil and Archie Goodwin (which eventually whittled down to just Mike) as creative guides for the DC Universe really didn't change things much at all. DC Comics under Dick's early reign, when they were fighting a dominant Marvel for any piece of the market, made some fairly radical departures for the time, and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, WATCHMEN, Chaykin's SHADOW, THE SANDMAN and various other projects, not to mention the ultimate superhero fanboy blowout CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, generated a new sense of excitement that had eluded DC since the early '70s. It dented Marvel's sales lead (if only a little) and generated widespread mainstream articles about "the maturing of comics" that gave DC the same sort of hip veneer that similar articles about Stan Lee's "cool" creations gave Marvel in the '60s. Probably the big difference between Marvel and DC is that Marvel has somehow managed to coast on that "cool" cachet for 40 years while DC's cachet was all but used up as soon as Superman died. If Dick's energy flagged in the later days of his reign – I never really got the feeling his heart was as into generating the next big crossover book as it was into shaking things up, but internal politics at DC have always mitigated against ever really shaking things up (status quo is status quo) – DC since Dick's departure seems to have generally adopted the philosophy of "more of the same." That this coincided with DC's dominance of the comics market for the first time since the '60s could vindicate such a philosophy, though steadily sinking sales would suggest perhaps that dominance had more to do with Marvel's concurrent collapse.
This is a touchy time for American comics. For several years, companies like DC and even Marvel could take solace in the notion that it was simply a "down cycle" for the comics industry and all they had to do was stay the course and the "up cycle" – and destiny – would swing back their way. Except the "up cycle" is back now, as shown by the brisk and steadily rising sales of both graphic novels and manga in America (Viz's SHONEN JUMP has made such inroads in its first three issues that TIME magazine was recently compelled to write it up), the arrival last week (I first mentioned it last July) of a separate comics section in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, and the continued success of "comic book movies" as the critically-drubbed DAREDEVIL nonetheless pulled in over $43 million this weekend. Neither DC nor Marvel have so far made any significant inroads in capitalizing on this trend. (As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, in the direct sales market, announcements that the market hasn't slipped as much as expected is now greeted as resoundingly good news; I can't find where it was now but someone online charted sales on major Marvel titles and found no sales change, with NEW X-MEN, for example, selling now about what it sold before Grant Morrison came on board. If anyone knows the address for these charts, drop me a line, okay? Thanks.)
DC has traditionally (at least since 1973 or so) based their business model on playing catch-up with Marvel, which has contributed to the state of the American comics market today. Comparing itself to Marvel is DC's status quo. The question is whether Didio will cleave to that status quo or will he retool DC's focus to meet today's threats, most of which have nothing at all to do with Marvel? I know Didio has experience with media outside of comics, so I'm hoping it's the latter. If it isn't, and he merely follows Marvel's current "new skin for the old ceremony" approach, then we're looking at the same old same old, which can only translate, ultimately, into a continuation of the downward spiral.
I live in hope, but until we see what directions the line will now take it's premature to describe the change as "a shake-up."
As mentioned above, DAREDEVIL survived assaults from critics (though I notice Ebert & Roeper both think it was better than SPIDER-MAN, and one of the greatest "comic book movies" ever made... which is damning with faint praise but that's another story... and even the usually hard to please Film Threat generally conceded it was entertaining) to become the #1 film (and, given that it was Valentine's Day, the #1 date film) of the week, with the biggest February opening ever. (Of course, considering the previous record holder was last year's appalling JOHN Q, we're back in damning with faint praise territory.) The real test is how it does next weekend. I suspect it'll ultimately do in the $125 mil range domestically (add probably another $125 mil or so worldwide) which isn't enough to be a monster hit but, depending on the costs of making the film, is probably enough to keep Hollywood's new love affair with "comic book movies" going awhile longer. The real hope here comes not from Marvel or DC movies but from Hollywood's growing interest in independent comics, as demonstrated by last week's purchase of Jeff Parker's THE INTERMAN by Gail Hurd's Valhalla Productions. I could remind you that THE INTERMAN, recently released as a graphic novel, is one of the best action-adventure graphic novels in recent memory and if you want a real kick you should run out and buy a copy, but if you've been reading PERMANENT DAMAGE for any length of time you already know that.
But the film I'm waiting for is still DARK BLUE, out on Friday with a story by James (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) Ellroy. I can't wait...
This newsbreak just in:
AP - Denver, Colorado. Homeland security agents this morning raided the winter home of Mother Nature in Vail, Colorado and whisked her off to an undisclosed location to be interrogated about reputed connections to Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, as severe weather conditions along the East Coast closed airports and highways, hindered police and protective services, shut down power in several states, and, as threatened in a recent tape alleged to have been made by Al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden, brought much of the American community to a standstill. Unnamed sources in the Bush administration cite new intelligence reports indicating Mother Nature actually began existence as a fertility goddess in ancient Babylon, indicating she may not only have continued ties to Iraq and Saddam Hussein's regime but may be the missing link that ties Hussein to Bin Laden. "It is no coincidence bad weather assaulted the United States in the midst of an orange alert," one official said. Responding to questions about these reports, White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer suggested the intelligence has long been known to the President. "President Bush in fact declared war on nature the instant his presidency began," Fleischer commented. "The president believes there's no place for a pagan diety in a Christian America, and certainly not for one as uncaring about American lives and our society as this one. As long as it poses a terrorist threat, we will root out nature wherever it exists, starting in Baghdad."
A source within Vice President Dick Cheney's office acknowledged the CIA has identified a nature stronghold in Northern Alaska, home of a splinter group called the ANWR, and verified a pre-emptive strike is planned to break up the ANWR and seize all assets, including vast oil reserves, that could conceivably be used to further terrorist ends.
At a post-raid press conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to acknowledge whether Mother Nature was being held without charges or counsel, and, in fact, refused to answer any question about anything. In response to the weekend's blizzard conditions on the East Coast and in other parts of the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced that "white" would be added to the terrorist threat color code to accommodate future terrorist actions of this kind, and recommended that all Americans prepare for future attacks by buying shovels and rubber boots. An article in an English newspaper claiming that the intelligence report cited in the apprehension depended substantially on a middle schooler's 1992 homework assignment was hotly denied by the administration, despite similar spelling and grammar errors in the reports.
It's been a fascinating week of life under Code Orange. When I was first starting grade school, back in the very, very late 50s, we were taught a little thing they liked to call "Duck and Cover." So little was told us about the actual nature of nuclear war that it was part of the canon that in such an event, barring our ability to get to a bomb shelter, we were supposed to stay away from windows (can't do to get hit by flying glass, after all, esp. not molten globules of it), duck under our desks in a sort of fetal squat, lower our chins to our chests, and fold our arms over the backs of our heads. This presumably would ward off 5000 degree heat blasts and subsequent massive doses of radiation the way Dragonball Zers ward off overwhelming energy blasts by crossing their arms in front of their faces. A later parody of "Duck and Cover" instructed us to bend over and kiss our asses goodbye, which was really more to the point. "Duck And Cover" was never about protection – the government knew if you were caught in an atomic blast, protection was pretty much a thing of the past – it was about phony empowerment, encouraging American citizens to believe all-out atomic war was something that would be fairly easy to survive.
So last week the Office Of Homeland Security issued a bulletin that Americans could protect themselves against terrorist biochem attack by having sufficient duct tape and plastic sheeting around to seal up a room in their homes, where enough food and water is stored to last for three days without breaking the seal. Assuming it's possible to hermetically seal a room with duct tape and plastic – the OHS later in the week quietly admitted it wasn't, though news media continue to push the notion, to the great financial relief of Home Depot – I have to wonder if there's enough air in a small hermetically sealed room to sustain a family of four and the family pets for three days. It's not widely known these days, but "duct tape" began existence in WWII as "duck tape," so named because, in addition to being fairly easy to rip even one handed, it was waterproof, so water would roll off it like it rolls off a duck. So the OHS essentially recommended – Duck and Cover II.
This was also the weekend that news media covered peace marches on seven continents, including a 1-2 million person march in London, a New York march with upwards of 400,000 participants, tens of thousands in the President's home state of Texas, and even a peace protest in Antarctica, and treated them as legitimate outcries rather than the prattling of fools and traitors. NBC even went so far as to note that the Hand Puppet's staunchest foreign ally in the Iraq expedition, British PM Tony Blair, has been warned by Parliament that approval for such an expedition is not there (Tony pledges to soldier on) and, Katie Couric speculated, wouldn't it be ironic if the attempt to bring regime change to Iraq resulted in regime change in Britain instead? Meanwhile, Kurds in Northern Iraq are furious that the US has quietly abandoned all thoughts of introducing democracy to Iraq after an invasion and only intend to replace Saddam Hussein and his top generals with American military governors and keep the rest of the "evil government" intact, which kind of guts any claims of moral underpinnings to the venture; Senator Robert Byrd is starting a movement (supported by some Republicans in as well as Democrats) to get Congress off its collective duff and make some of their own decisions regarding a war in Iraq (which, technically, is Congress' job, not the White House's); a trial involving the criminal BCCI bank began in England, where Blair immediately sealed a number of documents relating to BCCI – apparently the ones involving how Western powers used BCCI to sell Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction in the '80s – under strictest security secrecy, meaning the courts can't have a look at them and the papers can't start writing all sorts of embarrassing stories about how the US and England armed the man they now want to depose; and former attorney general Ramsey Clark has drawn up articles of impeachment against the Hand Puppet, VP Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the grounds that they've "acted or threatened acts that are serious offenses against the Constitution, its system of government, or the rule of law." Which are impeachable offenses according to American law. Not that impeachment is likely – though Clark's collecting signatures and plans to deliver them and the articles to Congress and demand action (from Congress? Heh...) – but it's still amusing to see.
Finally, even more information has come out about when the invasion of Iraq was conceived – a long time before 9-11 – and by whom and for what purpose, and a nice little timeline is forming, including some interesting perspective on why Dick Cheney was so adamant about not revealing what he discussed with Enron (remember Enron? It's moving back into the picture) and other oil executives. (The GAO has finally abandoned the fight to find out.) But more about that next week.
Since my first review of THE OFFICE (BBC America, 9PM Sunday) a couple weeks back, fans of the show have been begging me to give it another chance, and, yea, I may yet be witness to its brilliance. I'm now five shows in and – no such luck. I mean, it's okay. It's not that it's not funny, but it's more whimsy than laugh-out-loud funny. I appreciate the apparent unstructuredness and adlibness of it, but my god! Ten minutes of listening to David's incessant self-important two-faced whining gives me a raging headache. Sure I want to know if Tim and Dawn ever get together, but I just don't have the strength. And when exactly did Mackenzie Crook die? (He sure looks. But I suppose if you're into THE OFFICE that's just more of the humor.) I notice they quote a rave-up from Matt Groening in the ads, so clearly there's something there I'm just not getting. I get the jokes – they're not exactly obscure – but I just don't get the show.
I used to watch a lot of pro wrestling to watch guys like Curt Hennig perform. Hennig came into the WWE (then called the WWF) c.1989, not long after I started watching (I came to wrestling fairly late) as a character named Mr. Perfect, who could do pretty much anything, like shoot swish free throws without looking. The son of legendary Larry "The Ax" Hennig, and a heel throughout the bulk of his career, Curt was a hard-working fast-paced wrestler whose matches were invariably exciting, esp. when he was matched against wrestlers of similar skill, like Bret Hart, and he was a great interview. An absolute joy to watch. He was always entertaining to watch, but injury took him out of the WWF, like everyone else he was never used properly in WCW, and, despite a very brief return to WWE a year or so ago, had spent the last couple years working for independent promotions. Sadly, Curt Hennig died last week of an apparent heart attack at age 44, in a Florida motel room while scheduled to perform at an indie show. I watched a Mr. Perfect clip reel the WWE did in memoriam, including a number of the promos that he did when he first came in as Mr. Perfect, where he shot the aforementioned baskets, hit home run baseballs out of the park, effortlessly landed a golf shot, etc., and, except for the bit where he lobs a football downfield then sprints 50 yards to catch it, none of the clips were rigged. He really did do most of those things, as well as wrestle like a dream. He really was Mr. Perfect. So long, Curt.
After 20 volumes, you'd think Viz's RANMA ½ would be running out of steam. A creation of the great Rumiko Takahashi, RANMA ½ is essentially a romantic comedy about unadmitted/unrequited love set against a martial arts school background, where heroine Akane is engaged against her will to Ranma, a boy who fell into a magic spring and now turns into a girl when hit by cold water (and back when hit by hot), who doesn't like it any better than she does. Except they both secretly love each other but won't admit it until the other does. With seeming dozens of rivals for each, and lots of other characters, the series beats out variation on variation, and, in fact, the idea did seem to be getting a little worn in the last couple volumes. RANMA ½ #21 (Viz LLC, Box 77010, San Francisco CA 94107; $15.95) comes back with a vengeance, though, to put a new spin on the triangle of Ranma, Akane and Ranma's archest rival, the lovesmitten martial artist Ryoga, in one of the funniest, sickest sequences I've ever read anywhere. It's as innocent as babies, but still not for the prudish, and there's plenty of other action as well. Not knowing the characters is no impediment; Viz politely includes a page that quickly introduces. There are RANMA ½ books you can miss, but Vol. 21 isn't one of them. (But can someone please explain the significance of the recurring "cute girl who can't cook" bit in manga and anime?)
Likewise from Viz, SHONEN JUMP ($4.95@) deserves the attention it's getting. A 352 page anthology now in its third monthly issue and anchored by TV favorites DRAGONBALL Z, YU-GI-OH! (which is much better than its cartoon counterpart) and YUYU HAKUSHO, it's practically an instruction guide to why manga are hot stuff here these days. There isn't quite as much variety as one might expect – YU-GI-OH! and the new SHAMAN KING appear to be basically the same series, about supernaturally aided kids battling school bullies (and dang me if YU-GI-OH! doesn't seem visually influenced by latter day Will Eisner) – but it still breaks down interestingly: a superhero strip (DRAGONBALL Z), a pirate strip (ONEPIECE), a post-apocalyptic fantasy (SANDLAND), a supernatural comedy (YUYU HAKUSHA), a period piece (NARUTO) and the aforementioned school challenge strips. The real surprise, and best drawn, of the bunch is NARUTO, set in the hidden village of Konohagekure, where ninjas are trained, and a troublemaking orphan boy named Naruto trains to become the greatest ninja of all, unaware that he's actually the reincarnation of a terrible fox demon who plagued the village ten years earlier. It's funny and touching, and, like the other strips, is instructive: it integrates humor into the everyday fabric of the series, and focuses on familiar human aspects of the characters, even when they're doing the wildest things. The social milieu of most manga are just closer to the milieus of the intended audiences than those in most (certainly mainstream) American comics, and the characters simply act more like real (if exaggerated) people. Values are things learned, not automatically assumed, and the most interesting facet of manga is, underneath it all, how irreverent they are. It occurred to me some time ago that in Japanese culture, which on the surface places a lot of emphasis on reverence and proper behavior, the most popular culture is often the most irreverent. (This applies to anything from movies to Japanese pop music to the humiliation game shows.) And I suspect that's a huge appeal of manga: it provides an outlet for disrespect and irreverence. That's something else we could learn from them. Oddly, the big disappointment of SHONEN JUMP is Akira Toriyama's follow-up to DRAGONBALL Z, SANDLAND, an interesting idea about a kid demon helping a futuristic kingdom where water has all but vanished. Plot and characters are in place but in three episodes virtually nothing has happened, and, aside from having pointy ears, spiked hair and a tail, the snotty demon kid who's ostensibly the hero hasn't really shown he can do any more than any other kid. It's just not very good. But SHONEN JUMP is, and, if nothing else, every editor in comics should be poring over this stuff to get a grip on the new market. (Hopefully coming up with a better strategy than simply ripping off the superficial aspects, the usual American response to manga.)
I'm not much for blogs, but the best comics news site on the web turns out to be a blog: The Comics Journal's ¡Journalista!. If you haven't been reading it, you're missing out. Nothing else much, aside from reminding you to pick up my MORTAL SOULS trade paperback from Avatar Press; BADLANDS and BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY from AiT/PlanetLar Books; and remember Paul Smith and I have a Lockheed The Dragon story in this month's X-MEN UNLIMITED, from Marvel. Thanks.
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.