The Grumpy Color: Tom & Carla dismantle 2011, Part 2

[Previously on The Grumpy Color's 2011 roundup: Tom and Carla sat down to discuss DC and Marvel's corporate movements, how much cat-burglars love underwear, and how DC events progressed throughout the year to tumble right on into the New 52. Join us, won't you, as Tom has asked if, in light of the success of DC's reboot, Marvel will follow that lead with "Season One" and the Point-One projects, or perhaps something more... drastic?]

Carla: Oh Tom, you are adorable.

You see, Marvel did this thing, you might have heard of it: the Ultimate universe? It’s our having our reboot cake and eating our rich continuity other cake too. Two-fisted cake, sir! We can renovate and innovate to our heart’s content, rework the Avengers into the Ultimates, recostume everyone on the X-Men into a slicker, movie finish and draw readers in with a fresh setting and start. Meanwhile, business as usual can continue in our regularly scheduled books, and everyone should be fat and happy on delicious comics cake.

No matter what, the Ultimate line should give readers a definable training-wheels set of comics that will introduce ideas from yesteryear in a fresh modern setting. I do not hand Avengers books to people peeking inside for a glimpse at what the new movie is going to be like; I hand them the Ultimates (but only the first two). Once the basic idea is down, then they can move on to other Ultimate titles, try out some of the classic Avengers stories or pop in with a Bendis-penned issue of the current stuff. It’s the best of both worlds and, while it’s had some ups and downs, it’s worked out pretty well. And it’s why I hope that you’re right and that all this newness will generate a nostalgic miasma that repowers the old Earth-Whatever.

Season One is pretty much a response to Earth One and a fleshing out of the previous Origins or Mythos titles that come out from time to time. When someone asks, “Who’s Ghost Rider?”, I should be able to give that person a full explanation and a story that puts that explanation into entertainment. Point One is more for current comic readers who want to branch out into something new but haven’t read, say, Uncanny X-Force before. It gets good reviews, they want to give it a try, but starting from issue one seems expensive. The Point One issue should be a quick start into the regular line and a chapter marker for what is to come. These I will live with.

Tom: See, I didn’t think the Ultimate line was that drastic a move, mostly because it ran alongside the main Marvel U. At DC they called that Earth-One and Earth-Two and it worked out pretty well -- at first....

Carla: It seems that way now, but back in the day, the Ultimate line was a fairly risky move that paid off in a unexpectedly brilliant way.

Tom: Actually, it did take me a while, but I am reading a couple of “rebooted” Marvel books, Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil. Each made a big show of downplaying (if not outright rewriting) big chunks of continuity in favor of a new-reader-friendly tone, and the results have been pretty enjoyable.

Carla: See? Nice and easy. Marvel skins their knees on tone shifts and fresh new restarts all the time and bounces back at the best of times. At worst, we call it the Clone Saga and it becomes something of, err, legend. I hope for all of our sakes that the New 52 is the former.

Tom: I should have mentioned this back when we were talking about big events that didn’t seem to go anywhere, but nevertheless -- Fear Itself was certainly a comic book published in 2011, right?

Carla: Hey now! I love Fear Itself like I love warm blankets, purring kittens and delicious chocolates. Fear Itself is a masterpiece of comfort food and compelling storytelling! This is the best Event book Marvel has put out in years and easily my favorite over Civil War. Tread carefully.

Tom: From what I understand it wreaked havoc on the Marvel U., which was then undone with a handful of decimal-point specials, and now there will be some spinoffs.

Carla: *sigh* It’s all amazingly simple and beautiful. Heroes fight Fear Itself personified. Fear comes in a bunch of different shapes and sizes, from mild to moderate to OMG WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE. Heroes take losses, get scared but overcome the terrible dangers and their own personal fears as well. Fear Itself #7 ends as the heroes win the day, the world saved but not without its price. All the heroes are shaken and need some time to work on what they just saw.

That’s where the epilogues begin. I’ll agree that the decimal label needs some... fine tuning and time to get into our heads as something more than an awkward gimmick, but the content in each issue was amazing. Fear Itself #7.1 couldn’t let Bucky just perish after all of Brubaker’s hard work, so Steve gets to go back to his job and Bucky gets to go back to covert ops. The best of both worlds once more. Fear Itself #7.2 reminds us all that this is fiction and no one really ‘dies’ in comics or in mythology or in storytelling. It’s a cycle, a story and it never really ends. A phenomenal issue that is pretty much my favorite comic of this entire year. Fear Itself #7.3 had Iron Man facing down the nasty, horrible part of this kind of war, the causalities, the senselessness of it all and how mortal man deals with things beyond his understanding. Tie-ins like Fear Itself: the Fearless are just making sure that the end of it all, the villains and concepts of Fear Itself don’t just disappear like so many Skrulls.

Tom: You know, I’m not sure whether I’ll read Winter Soldier, because as much as I want to, it somehow reminds me of that show Renegade.

Carla: Really now.

From Wikipedia: "The series stars Lorenzo Lamas as Reno Raines, a police officer who is framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Raines goes on the run and joins forces with Native American bounty hunter Bobby Sixkiller, played by Branscombe Richmond. The series was created and produced by Stephen J. Cannell, who also had a recurring role as main villain, crooked police officer Donald ‘Dutch’ Dixon."

You are so just mad because Brightest Day turned up empty. If anything, Winter Soldier will be more like The Fugitive!

Tom: I didn’t say the Renegade thing was a fair comparison. It’s just that when I see a guy on a motorcycle with his soap-opera hair blowing in the breeze -- which I swear I saw in regard to WS -- it triggers a certain association.

Carla: James Buchanan Barnes’ hair is a mane of glory.

Tom: Moving on....

Since 2012's big event will be Avengers Vs. X-Men, Marvel’s tradition of annual events continues -- but despite my own prediction, DC might not put forth its own Crisis-style crossover. If Marvel has the only Big Event in town, does that automatically give it a leg up, or is the proverbial fatigue finally setting in?

Carla: You know, last year I would have said that we’d be fatigued to all get out and that this too would pass. Now? Nah. As long as people love trade paperbacks and as long as we are here to discuss the impact and record it for the history books, Event books aren’t going away. They might not be as pop culturally impactful as they once were, there might not be as much pomp and/or circumstance, they might be a bump in the road like so much Shadowland, but they will be. DC will find a way, even if it’s just a refurbish of an old classic storyline.

Tom: Well, to me a big DC event for next summer could go in a couple of different directions. Either it’s some mundane threat which legitimately affects the entire line, like a Daemonite invasion which spins out of Grifter and Voodoo or the vampire apocalypse of I, Vampire; or it’s the payoff to the Hooded Woman cameos and we find out whether the old-look DC has a place in the New 52.

We’ve been talking about the Ultimate line without mentioning its new headliner, Miles Morales. I know he represents the spirit of innovation and progress for which the Ultimate line was created -- and I’m glad for that, don’t get me wrong -- but how’s he working out as a going concern?

Carla: I can’t say the identity change has hurt the book, but I can’t say it’s made it fly off the shelves. Readers love NEW, and NEW in the digital age is difficult to keep a grasp on. People want to read the start, the inception, the moment someone becomes a hero rather than the long journey it takes to get to the more natural evolution of a character. Miles Morales is a genius move and I want readers to want him based on the quality of his character, not by his attention-grabbing headlines. I wish he got more press. I wish I knew what the new Ultimates’ M.O. was; but only time will tell. In the meantime, I have a whole other universe to keep me company while the newest newness can sort itself out.

Man, I hope they bring back the old continuity to DC for you, sir.

Tom: What about the overall state of both companies when it comes to diversity? I’d say DC has at least paid lip service to the idea, with Batwoman, Batwing, Mr. Terrific, Static, and Blue Beetle; but overall it looks like the same old faces producing the New 52. Marvel seems to be pruning its superhero line to make room for Avenging Spider-Man and other high-profile spinoffs. One in four New 52 books features some version of (or connection to) Batman, so it’s a popular strategy -- but how sustainable is it?

Carla: We’ve been slapping a Deadpool, Wolverine or Spider-Man on random books for years. Popular guys are popular guys, and that’s what people want to buy. Now, when we had a glut of Deadpool books, we eventually had the market drop out on that and scaled back the ‘Pool to a point where we have some clearly defined stories for him to be in rather than everywhere all at once. But then you look at Wolverine, who writers reluctantly admit gets frequent flyer miles from being on the Avengers, X-Men and his own titles. So, it’s sustainable to a point? With a certain “Q Rating”? Who knows.

Creating new characters should be up to the old guard; bear with me on this one: guys like Mark Waid, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, etc. have an established readership. They write great Marvel stories and are some of the most well-versed writers on the subjects in their wheelhouse. Why not let them try out a new idea or two? They know the history well enough so that the new character won’t seem so jarring and, with some Wolverine guest-star training wheels, we as an audience will be more ready to accept them. Whether they get their own title is kind of up to management and financial anxiety, but if it works...

I know they’ve already sort of done this (Bendis’ Miles Morales, Brubaker’s version of Bucky might as well be a new character, X-23, etc) but we’re still missing some essential key that makes this a sustainable monthly book. This is a difficult industry, Tom. I am so glad we’re in the bleachers. =)

Tom: I’m not sure that asking a Mark Waid to create a new Marvel (or DC) character, which Marvel (or DC) is then free to exploit, would be the best way to go -- especially since the more established creators are just as free to get a better deal from some other publisher.

Carla: But they have [created new characters]! I mean, Bucky is nothing like his original concept now, he’s practically a new character! It saves all the guesswork and if you really want to do something weird and removed from the official capes-and-tights world, well, Marvel has Icon, DC has Vertigo ... try it out in some new ground. Eventually, Jessica Jones comes to meet Spider-Man, John Constantine stands next to Zatanna; there’s a way to do this.

Tom: I know what you’re saying about skittish readers needing that extra push to try something different, but maybe everyone would feel more comfortable with a big name on a lesser-known (or underachieving) title. Doesn’t that describe Waid’s Daredevil and, back when it relaunched, Brubaker’s Cap? (Wow, that sounds depressingly close to explaining why Marvel and DC don’t seem to create anything new....)

Carla: Yes! Yes yes yes. I would read the Towing section of the Yellow Pages if it was written by Matt Fraction and, despite better judgment, I’ll read whatever has the Hulk smashing about. It’s scary not to do the safe idea of matching big names to big characters for the biggest buck, but if DC’s 52 have told us anything, change is possible.

Don’t be depressed, Tom! It’s a brave new world! Yes we can, change is good! Let’s get some signs and a tent, we can make a difference! (for those keeping score at home, that was the obligatory Occupy movement gag)

Tom: So speaking of which, how much are you looking forward to selling Watchmen 2 to the apathetic and the downright hostile? I don’t know whether I’m more excited about Watchmen 2 or the 3D re-release of Phantom Menace.

Carla: Oh. Way to bring the room down there. Yeah, it’s a bad idea, not much more needs to be said. If they release it, people will rant and rail and buy it to complain even more. Such is the biz.

Tom: I was trying to think of some equally sacred Marvel story which no one wants sequelized, but Marvel may have done that already with JMS’ Osborn/Gwen hookup.

Carla: Oh! Oh uncalled for, ew! (and that was Quesada’s idea! JMS wanted them to be Peter and Gwen’s babies!) Yeah, we revised our bad ideas, it was called “One Moment in Time” and now we don’t talk about it. Yuck.

Tom: Okay, in order to burn that image out of my brain, I have looked at some Kate Beaton Wonder Woman comics. I’d love it if Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s work on WW were popular enough for a sequel to their classic “Architecture & Mortality,” but I doubt that’ll happen. Do you have some dream Marvel project you’d love to see in 2012?

Carla: Actually, I would buy the heck out of another Bizarro Comics volume, throwing in some Beaton and other indie guys to take some of the edge of all the 52-ness of it all. What dream project can I think of for 2012 from Marvel, though. Gosh. I guess it’d be some sort of Wasp revival; she’s a fantastic character and, in a beautiful world, I and Phil Noto would hammer out a mini-series about a fabulous, fun and fashionable gal who would go on exciting international crime-fighting adventures. Also, I’d get a pony and a rocketship.

Realistically, maybe they’ll find a big enough pile of money to bring Brian K. Vaughan back to the Runaways? I dunno. Maybe I’m too sated on Fraction being on Thor. That’s the gift that keeps on giving, sir.

Tom: Come to think of it, if you’re involved with any comics project, I hope it’s a guest-shot in IDW’s new Abramsverse Star Trek book. Surely by now your cadet character has become a senior officer on some high-profile starship! I’d be thrilled beyond words if the Enterprise met up with Captain Hoffman of the USS Defiant (or whichever...).

Carla: May you hang a star on my dreams, sir. =D

Tom: I think it’s about time to start wrapping up, but we can’t adjourn without some words about day-and-date digital comics. Everybody’s getting tablets these days -- my mom got a Kindle Fire to go along with her plain-old Kindle, for goshsakes -- so I’m hoping it opens up some new ways to explore comics. Not just the monthly books, either: maybe this’ll create new opportunities for those obscure characters and experimental stories I’m always yakking about. What effects do you see coming from digital? Anyone new at Metro who got turned on via their iPad and now wants to feel some slick paper every Wednesday?

Carla: True story: one of our regular customers comes into the store and notes Avenging Spider-Man #1 in its clear plastic baggie. We discuss polybags and their usefulness, and the code within the pages, and he asks me if I know anything about how this works. Does it download? Read from an online resource? What kind of reader does it use and is it Mac and PC compatible? How much trouble would it be to get this comic in digital form versus how much trouble it would be to come down to our store and take it in hand.

I didn’t have an answer. I mean, I know iPads are easy and handhold you all the way through the process with their super-slick technology, but if I was looking to make the transition on anything else, I was clueless. My brain is hardwired to follow ye olde fashioned logic of buying a newspaper when I want the news, buying a magazine off the rack at the grocery store and picking up comics in person from the friendly sales clerks at Metro Entertainment (cheap plug!). Did you know that if I go grab a cup o’ joe from Starbucks, I can read Marvel digital comics for free? And yet, here I was, dumbstruck when a customer knew if I could use the advanced option to a product in my own store.

I don’t understand the appeal of digital comics, but then again, I don’t understand the appeal of Twilight. Or wearing those big spacers in your ears. Times change and, no matter how much I would love a digital type to enter my store and ask for something fresh off the stands, it goes forward. I agree that that this brave new frontier is a great place to try out some of the fringey ideas, make shorts, “webisodes,” webcomics (oh dear Lord, if you have it in your heart, please give me a one page comic from Colleen Coover about the adventures of Marvel Girl and the Scarlet Witch in 2012!), maybe even a better stab at the motion comic that Heidenberg’d out on us, but day and date digital is only helping us in the paperback business as firming up some release dates. If people move on, they’ll move on.

And if that’s the way they go, we should be ready for it. No matter how nostalgia takes us, we can’t just pine for yesteryear like some Grumpy Old Fa-.... sorry.

Tom: Well, on that note, we’ll put 2011 to rest. Here’s hoping 2012 is good to us, and to all of you too!

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