30 January 2006

COMMENT: Previews is Your Friend?

Guess it depends on who YOU are?

Shopping as I do at Midtown Comics, I've never pre-ordered anything before, and as a result, have never had a need to do more than quickly flip through a copy of Previews, Diamond Comics Distributors' monthly catalog of product being solicited to the direct market. I picked up the current issue last week because I was considering a new column for Buzzscope that would serve both as a pre-ordering primer for those unfamiliar, and a less-snarky spin on my weekly "On The Shelves" post here on CBC. It's an unwieldly chunk of pulped tree, though, and the thought of going through it every month made my eyes bleed and my heart hurt. My love for comics does have a limit, apparently!

With that in mind, it was a funny coincidence that I happened to check my site meter referrals a little bit ago only to see a hit from http://www.astronautsintrouble.com/index.shtml, aka AiT/PlanetLar, whose blog has recently been taken over by one Josh Richardson, who does something over there that's not been deemed important enough for their About or Contact pages. Josh doesn't quite have Larry's flair for the dramatic turn of phrase, but he's an earnest disciple and clearly cut from similar cloth. Anyway, he's sending traffic my way again, linking to an offhand comment I made in last week's "On the Shelves" about their Charlie Adlard 3-pack seeming like an inventory clearing sale. (Not a bad thing, necessarily, and might even be considered a smart bit of marketing.) I mention it only because Josh makes the same mistake Larry did in our little dustup over DEMO last year, saying: "I can see where maybe Guy doesn't go through Previews like the rest of us serious people, so he probably didn't see our 'Charlie Adlard: Master Illustrator' ad, but still."

The snarky little dig brought a smile to my face because Josh is right. As I acknowledged above, I don't typically go through Previews because my eyesight is bad enough and I'm not Midtown's buyer. Plus, I have access to the internet and an email inbox overloaded with press releases that are ultimately more cost-effective than those pricey ads that keep Diamond from dropping indie publishers too quickly, but are overlooked by the 95% of the retailers and fans who don't venture past the premiere publishers section of the catalog.

So no, Josh, I didn't see your ad for "Charlie Adlard: Master Illustrator", just like I didn't the see the other misguided, misdirected advertising in whatever issue of Previews it appeared in. I'm sure you realize I'm not the only one who didn't see it, too; and that of the small percentage of potential buyers who did, the majority of them didn't even register it, and an even smaller percentage of those ordered it.

Moral of the Story: Unless you're a retailer, Previews is not your friend. (Even then, it's not a very good friend.) If you're an indie publisher/creator depending on an ad in Previews to stay ahead of Diamond's cutoff, either legitimately or via a backend deal, you've got a flawed business and/or marketing plan and will most likely fail. If you're a fan who depends on Previews to stay on top of what's coming out, save your $4.95 (and your eyesight) and allow me to introduce you to the comics internet via the links over in the left-hand column.

PS: The column idea isn't dead, but I doubt I'll be the one doing it if it does come to fruition. Maybe one of you "serious people" out there want to pitch something?

29 January 2006

Vs. CARD(S) OF THE WEEK: X-Men Expansion

Take two friends who love comics. Add a superhero-themed collectible card game. Sprinkle a dash of competitiveness, and a lump of testosterone. The result? Weekly matches that turn friends into nemeses.

This is not your typical "card of the week" column. Every web site dedicated to CCGs has been there and done that. This column is all about our competition, though. Guy and I usually play two games of Vs. a week, and every Sunday, we'll feature the card that we think most influenced the outcome of the matches we played the preceding week, and the metagaming lessons we learned in the process.

Well, because of our busy schedules, Guy and I haven't played a game in two weeks. I ended up play testing a new Thunderbolts Deck with my wife, against my Avenger Reservist Deck. Let just say she beat me so bad that I needed some time off to heal my wounds!

This installment of Card Of The Week will not feature cards we played with, but instead I've got some previews for you from The X-Men Expansion coming out in late February.


Frost Shaw

Psylocke Ape

The X-Men Expansion is still in previews, so not all the details of the set are known, but here's what I've gleaned so far.

  • The teams in the set will be the X-Men, Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants, Hellfire Club and Morlocks. No X-Factor :(. I had some great card ideas for Multiple Man.
  • There are no dual-affiliated cards.
  • No reprinted cards from Marvel Origins. It was speculated early on that Upper Deck would do this, but all cards are originals. For example, it was thought they might add Leader to Cyclops-MOR006, or Reservist to "name your favorite mutant".
  • The cards will depict the characters from a handful of timeframes. I believe it was in InQuest magazine that I saw a preview of Storm in a mohawk, from when she was with the Morlocks. If I'm not mistaken, even the current version of the Astonishing X-Men are included, but don't hold me to that one!
  • Mutant Traits have been added to the game, and they are not retroactive. If you look at the above cards you'll notice text on the bottom of the character art. It will say either "Mutant - Physical", "Mutant - Mental", or "Mutant - Energy". These traits are active even if the character is stunned, unlike character powers which are inactive when stunned. These traits do not spill over to older cards from earlier sets, either, so Emma Frost MSM-104 from the Spider-Man Expansion is not a "Mutant - Mental" card, only this current version is.

Don't forget, Sneak Preview tournaments are being held on February 11 & 12. Check out a preview of some of the prizes available to attendees. (I believe the picture of Phoenix is the playmat.) Last time I went to a Preview Tournament, I came away with a playmat, and I didn't even win a match! You can find a local shop holding a Preview Tournament at upperdeck.com.

If you'd like more in-depth information and coverage of other preview cards, check out Metagame, and TCG Player. They may break the stories, but here at CBC, we break them down for you. That's why I think it's so hard to pull in new players to Vs. If you go to a CCG website and you're a newbie, its a huge turn-off. The first few times I went there I was like, what the f*%^ are they talking about? I really wanted to learn, though, so I stuck with it. Most people won't put that type of effort into it.

So, Upper Deck, if you want to reach the masses with Vs., reach out to CBC. Provide us with a preview, and help bring in new players, and don't just preach to the choir!

27 January 2006

COMMENT: Growing Pains

Just a quick update, in lieu of any significant posting this week.

1) Buzzscope is apparently experiencing some growing pains, as our server has been crapping out randomly over the past couple of days. They're working on getting it fixed, but your ability to access the site in the (very) short-term will be sporadic. Do keep checking, though, as a bunch of good stuff went up in the past two days, including the latest "The Hive"; "Comics You Should Own"; a double dose of "What's A Nubian?"; and the debut of Jenny Gonzalez' column, "Peripheral Images". Good times!

2) On a sorta-related note, let it be known that, when it comes to our editorial coverage, don't EVER attempt to dictate how I will cover a story, especially when you come to us begging for coverage. Our opinion columnists have free reign to pretty much cover whatever they want, within the scope of their respective columns, but when it's an editorial feature or news piece, it's my way or the highway. Take that PR fluff bullshit to another site, because we don't play that game. Nuff said; don't ask!

3) Here's a sneak peek at the two panels I'm moderating at next month's NY Comic-Con:

Sunday, 2/26 @ 2pm
"Beyond the Capes and Spandex" -- Independent Comics Roundtable

Superheroes are the bread and butter of the comics industry, but not every comics fan (or potential fan) is into superheroes. From urban noir and supernatural mysteries to all ages humor and subversive edutainment, there is perhaps a wider variety of genres represented in comic book form then there ever has been. Our roundtable of independent comics creators discusses the variety of comics available today, the difficulties of going against the grain, and the potential for expanding the audience for comics into the mainstream.

Panelists: Ivan Brandon (NYC Mech), Tania Del Rio (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), Jenny Gonzalez (Too Negative), Neil Kleid (Brownsville), Ken Lillie-Paetz (Elsinore; Monkey In A Wagon vs. Lemur On A Big Wheel), Jose L. Torres (The Hunger), Fred Van Lente (Action Philosphers!), Sean Wang (Runners)

Moderator: Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (Senior Comics Editor, PopCultureShock)

Sunday, 2/26 @ 3pm
"What About the Kids?" -- All-Ages Comics Roundtable

Wonder Woman snaps a man's neck; Spider-Man has an eyeball ripped out and is beaten to death; G.I. Joe deals with real world terrorism and 9/11-style acts of wanton violence... Are these the same characters smiling at kids from the shelves of Toys 'R Us? Our roundtable of all-ages comics creators and industry figures discusses the apparent maturation of comics content over the years, and what's being done about reaching the next generation of comics fans.

Panelists: Tania Del Rio (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), Chris Eliopoulos (Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius), Gerry Gladston (Midtown Comics), Jim Salicrup (PaperCutz)

Moderator: Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (Senior Comics Editor, PopCultureShock)
Mark your calendars now! Hopefully we're not competing directly with any of the Marvel/DC hypefests I'm assuming will be held that weekend.

4) The real world has been kicking my ass the past couple of weeks and I've had almost no free time to get anything other than the essentials done. If I owe you an email, I'm not ignoring you, I'm just swamped! I did read Nextwave #1 last night, though, and it was a lot of fun. Go buy it before it sells out.

25 January 2006

COMMENT: Comics Bloggers' Poll 2005 Results


The results are in from the inaugural Comics Bloggers' Poll 2005, and like so many voting experiences of mine over the past six years or so, I find myself once again disappointed in my fellow Americans bloggers.

James Meeley notes the skewed turnout, with only 2 of the 50 bloggers voting being women, while Ragnell comments that it was "mostly superhero fans who voted." I'm only familiar with exactly half of the voters' blogs, but of those, there's a pretty good mix of tastes, so I'm not sure how much weight to give that particular observation.

Anyway, the results (top five for each category) and my thoughts...

Best Artist
1. Frank Quitely (40)
2. JH Williams III (29)
3. John Cassaday (22)
4. Tony Harris (21)
5. Gene Ha (14)

Meh. I like Quitely, but considering his rather limited output last year, he feels like more of a popularity pick, riding the coattails of the blogiverse's overwhelming adoration of All-Star Superman (ALL ONE ISSUE OF IT!!!) and We3, the latter of which was an artistic tour de force, if overrated as a whole. Same with Cassaday, whom I'm not a particularly big fan of as his style is too stiff for my tastes, only a step or two away from Greg Land's photo-tracing. I'm not terribly familiar with Williams, but did he do anything besides Seven Soldiers #0 and a few issues of Desolation Jones? Not saying it's a quantity thing, necessarily, but considering the interesting exclusion of covers from this category, these results are about as valid as Wizard's Top 10. Pretty much why I didn't bother voting in this category.

Best Writer
1. Grant Morrison (97)
2. Warren Ellis (37)
3. Brian K. Vaughan (34)
4. Ed Brubaker (25)
5. Geoff Johns, Gail Simone (24)

Again, I didn't vote in this category either as it felt too much like a popularity contest, even moreso than the artist category as there's no way I could properly judge, say, Gail Simone, since I hadn't read any of her work. These two categories might have been better served by a preliminary step to develop a list of 5-10 nominees before opening voting to everyone. Morrison's landslide victory isn't the least bit surprising, of course, but I have to wonder if, looking back to 2005 ten years from now, whether or not Ellis or Vaughan's work will be seen as being stronger and more influential than anything he did last year. Johns started 2005 as one of my favorite superhero writers, and ended it a step above Judd Winick and Jeph Loeb, two writers I wish would leave comics altogether. (Interestingly, neither of these hacks got a single vote, so the comics blogiverse has some sense!) My money is on Brubaker for snagging the top spot for 2006 when all is said and done.

Best Ongoing Title
1. Fell (30)
2. All Star Superman (25)
3. Desolation Jones (20)
4. Love and Rockets, Or Else (18)
5. Captain America, Ex Machina, Young Avengers (17)

This list was a bit of a surprise, but because I didn't keep a copy of my own votes, I'm not sure exactly how big of a surprise it actually is. All Star Superman being on the list is simply ridiculous since, as I noted above, there was only one issue released in 2005, and I could have sworn there was a rule specifying a minimum number of issues being released to qualify. (If not, there should have been.) I didn't read any L&R or Or Else with a 2005 publication date, so I can't speak to whether their appearances are deserved or not, but I can agree with Fell, Captain America, Ex Machina and Young Avengers being there. Desolation Jones #1 didn't work for me, but I'm at the point where I think I'll give it another look. A glance at my Top 10 list shows I was alone with most of my picks, with only Gotham Central (6th) and The Losers (11th) getting noticeable support.

Best Original Graphic Novel
1. Top 10: The 49ers (82)
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (74)
3. Capote In Kansas (30)
4. Tricked (29)
5. The Quitter (19)

This was a tough category for me as I rarely read OGNs when they first come out. In fact, I've only read five of the titles that made the entire list, though I own another five or so which I haven't gotten around to reading yet. I'm not even sure what I voted for (Why Are You Doing This? might have been one of mine, assuming I remembered it at the time), though I'd probably throw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a point or two now that I've read it. This category, more than any other, needs to be tweaked for next year as it's not clear whether anthologies of original material really belong here - I missed out on voting for Project: Superior because of that - and Manga was left completely up in the air, apparently resulting in my vote for Dead End being dropped while internet darling Steady Beat made the list. Nevertheless, I'll be using it as a list of recommendations for future purchases on those light weeks.

Best Mini-Series or One-Shot
1. Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy, Villains United (28)
2. Infinite Crisis (22)
3. Spider-Man/Human Torch (21)
4. Seven Soldiers: Guardian, Seven Soldiers: Zatanna (20)
5. Marvel Monsters (16)

This was very surprising, if for no other reason than that it's all Marvel/DC. So much for the blogiverse's diverse tastes! Of course, Grant Morrison is well represented, though I have to admit to Klarion and Zatanna being the only two of his Seven Soldiers minis to strike a chord with me. I'd actually rate the whole of House of M as being better than the three convoluted issues of Infinite Crisis released last year, if for no other reason than Bendis actually managed to nail a handful of really strong character moments while Johns has wielded his plot hammer like a three-fingered amputee. (No, it's not supposed to make sense.) Adam Strange, Elk's Run, Fade From Grace, Madrox and Nat Turner would be my ideal Top 5, though I have no memory of what my actual ballot looked like.

Best Collection of Previously Printed Material
1. Black Hole (57)
2. We3 (37)
3. Showcase Presents Superman (32)
4. Street Angel (27)
5. Showcase Presents Green Lantern (26)

Having finally read it, I'm comfortable with Black Hole taking the top spot. Not so thrilled with the next four, though, as the Showcase votes seem to be more about presentation than actual content; We3 is way overrated, amazing art carrying a derivative and unsatisfying story; and Street Angel, the first two issues of which were silly fun, but not enough to get me to read the final three which are now long-forgotten, buried deep under my to-read pile. There's some irony in the mis-titled Bumperboy tying with DEMO for 15th place, as I think all five of its points might have come from me. Overall, there's a lot of good TPBs represented and I'll be using this list like the OGN list, cherry-picking it on light shopping weeks.

Kudos to Chris Tamarri for conceiving and spearheading the vote. I'm looking forward to next year's edition, hopefully fleshed out a bit and with more participation from you people. If you were eligible and didn't vote, shut up!

PS: Be sure to check out Tamarri's dissection of the results, along with The Low Road's Ed Cunard, for some interesting background and DVD commentary. Chris is also tracking other commentary on the Poll. Does Zogby offer that kind of service?

In the interests of full disclosure, and my own curiousity, here's my official ballot. (Thanks, Chris!)

Field              Entry                                 Points
BestArtist1 No Vote 10
BestCollection1 Bumperboy Loses His Marbles TPB 3
BestCollection2 Runners: Bad Goods TPB 2
BestCollection3 Madrox TPB 2
BestCollection4 100 Girls: The First Girl, Vol. 1 TPB 1
BestCollection5 Fade From Grace TPB 2
BestMiniseries1 Elk's Run 3
BestMiniseries2 NYC Mech: Beta Love 3
BestMiniseries3 Superior Showcase #0 2
BestMiniseries4 Something So Familiar 1
BestMiniseries5 Son of Vulcan 1
BestOriginalNovel1 Why Are You Doing This? 5
BestOriginalNovel2 Dead End, Vol. 2 5
BestTitle1 100 Girls 2
BestTitle2 Amelia Rules! 3
BestTitle3 Conan 1
BestTitle4 The Losers 1
BestTitle5 The Expatriate 1
BestTitle6 Young Avengers 2
BestWriter1 No Vote 10

Looking back, I realize I submitted my votes way too quickly, missing several no-brainers that I'd have if I had voted from home, including my forgetting to include Gotham Central in the Best Ongoing Title category!!!! Me am idiot! Grrrr...

My mini-series votes were a bit off, too, leaving out Adam Strange and Nat Turner, though I'm pretty sure I didn't include the latter because of the apparently imagined rule that at least 2-3 issues had to have been released in 2005. (I might have mixed it up with my own rule for Buzzscope's Best of 2005 list.)

24 January 2006

On the Shelves: 10/25/06

Support GOOD Comics! Try something new EVERY month!

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 1/25/06. The full shipping is list available at ComicList.

[NOTE: Not all of these titles will actually arrive in all stores. If your LCBS offers a pre-ordering service, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, find another one; or try Khepri.com or MidtownComics.com]

Desert Peach Bread & Swans Novel, $21.95

A fast pick, but I'm thinking this one holds on for Best Title of the Week.

Charlie Adlard 3 GN Pack, $38.85

Is this the equivalent of running a sale to clear out inventory?

Warren Ellis Black Gas #1, $3.99
Warren Ellis Black Gas Gore #1, $3.99
Warren Ellis Black Gas Platinum Incentive Cvr #1, AR
Warren Ellis Black Gas Terror #1, $3.99
Warren Ellis Black Gas Wraparound #1, $3.99

Ellis giveth (Fell), Ellis taketh away?

Revelations #6 (Of 6), $2.99
Sexy Chix TPB, $12.95

I can finally finish reading Revelations, as I was stockpiling the floppies for a DIY TPB. I would have probably picked it up anyway, but all the hoopla over the unfortunately titled Sexy Chix certainly helped to keep it on my radar.

Vigilante #5 (Of 6), $2.99

As much as my wallet appreciates it, my inner fanboy will be thankful for OYL so I can add some regular DC pulls back onto my list.

Forgotten Realms Dark Elf Exile Seeley Cvr A #3 (Of 3), $4.95

Another DIY TPB; has it always been $4.95/issue?

Comics Journal Library Vol 6 The Writers TPB, $19.95

Depending on whom's interviewed, I might have to pick this up. It's the one thing TCJ is good for.

Bone Vol 3 Eyes Of The Storm Color Ed SC (resolicited), $9.99

Still haven't gotten around to finishing Vol. 1, but I'm picking this up anyway.

Fallen Angel Idw #2 (Of 5), $3.99

Damn Peter David for breaking my IDW embargo!

Godland Vol 1 Hello Cosmic TPB, $14.99
Pact #4 (Of 4), $2.99
Season Of The Witch #3 (Of 4), $3.50

Okay internet, GØDLAND better be everything you've said it is! Finally, The Pact finishes; I've dropped ShadowHawk twice since I first picked up the initial three issues. Season Of The Witch is going to end up being another DIY TPB, as I remember enjoying it, but can't really remember too much about it.

Lexian Chronicles Full Circle #4 (resolicited), $3.50

Entries in the "Which Month They Realize They Bit Off More Than They Could Chew" pool starts now. I'm taking October 2006.

All New Off Handbook Marvel Universe A To Z #1, $3.99
Black Panther #12, $2.99
Daredevil #81, $2.99
Defenders #5 (Of 5), $2.99
Next Wave #1, $2.99
Spider-Man Black Cat Evil That Men Do #6 (Of 6), $2.99
X-Men And Power Pack #4 (Of 4), $2.99
X-Men Deadly Genesis #3 (Of 6), $3.50

I will not be suckered into buying the Handbook. I will not be suckered into buying the Handbook. I will not be suckered into buying the Handbook. I will not be suckered into buying the Handbook. I lie...

Atomika #6 (Of 12), $2.99

Thanks to Dabb and the whole Speakeasy fiasco, I feel some weird sense of loyalty to this title. It's another DIY TPB, though.

Local #3 (Of 12), $2.99

I considered sticking around for another issue, but the previous one gets worse and worse the more I think about its unappealing lead character and really stupid premise. I don't care how young she is, she's exactly the kind of dumbass I can't stand in real life. (Oddly, I'm still on the fence about DMZ, crossing my fingers that there's room for it to improve before it loses me completely.)

Surrogates #4 (Of 5), $2.95

Another DIY TPB, I haven't read any of it since its great first issue.

Previews Vol XVI #2, AR

Is that hell freezing over? No, just me looking into an idea for a new, though totally unoriginal, column for Buzzscope.

22 January 2006

Comics Took A Back Seat This Week

It was a rough weekend here at stately Gonzalez Manor, between a nasty virus laying the kids low and our respective exhaustion meters hitting their red lines, coupled with my 9-to-5 making it impossible to stay on top of my four-color fixation most of the week. Days like this are what escapist entertainment were made for. If only I could stay awake long enough to escape! As a result, not much posting here, including my missing my first Vs. Card of the Week entry. :-(

Anyway, in case you haven't gotten into the habit of checking Buzzscope every day yet (why the hell not?), here's some of what you may have missed:

  • Ronée continued her controversial look at sexual harrassment in the comics industry, including a clarification of her original column and a personal revelation of her own that offers a bit of perspective.
  • The second of two new columns that fell into my lap a few weeks back debuted, as Fangirl Rampage continued our mission of carving out a niche for the underrepresented fans in the comics world. Lauren Perry interviews fangirls about what they like and don't like about comics, as opposed to the usual agenda-driven broad strokes of most pundits.
  • Neil Kleid's latest Take That!, "INFINITE PATIENCE: The Blog of Alexander Luthor" is, by far, the funniest one he's done. Ever. Certainly more creative than Infinite Crisis #4.
  • Plus, I snuck in a quick interview with Tania Del Rio about her upcoming Spider-Man/Araña one-shot.

There's a lot more - including a bunch of new previews and the steady, productive buzz from The Hive - so click on over to the main comics page and get caught up, then hit the forums and get in on some discussions. I'll be back in there just as soon as I get caught up in the real world.

PS: Jim Salicrup's "Addicted to Comics" returns this week.

PPS: It hasn't been announced officially, yet, but two of the panels I pitched to NY Comic-Con were accepted, and are tentatively slated for Sunday, back-to-back from 2-4pm. One on all ages comics, the other an indie roundtable.

PPPS: Come on, Panthers! A Pittsburgh/Carolina Super Bowl could mean the XFL will rise again! If Tommy Maddox and He Hate Me both make the Really Big Game at the End, that's the marketing hook they need to make a comeback. Please?

18 January 2006

CBC Quickees: TPB Bonanza; Morrison Spotlight

Let's just get to it, yes?

Black Hole
By Charles Burns (Pantheon, 2005; $24.95)

There are some comic books that I simply do not have the critical vocabulary to properly review, like a casual art fan who finds himself in The Prado standing speechless before Breughel's "The Triumph of Death" in all its full-size glory. I know it's an amazing piece of art, but anything I might say about it seems inadequate. I felt that way after first reading Blankets a year ago, almost to the day, and I feel that way now about Charles Burns' freaky Black Hole. It's a stunning piece of work, textually and visually, and I was hard-pressed to not devour its 368 pages all in one sitting. What's particularly impressive is how well it held up in light of the hype surrounding it, often the kiss of death for me. This belongs on every comics fan's bookshelf. Grade: A

Full Moon Fever
By Joe Casey, Caleb Gerard, Damian Couciero (AiT/PlanetLar, 2005; $12.95)

I picked this up mainly because I've been digging Joe Casey's work lately, but also because I wanted to read a few more AiT books before deciding whether or not to write them off completely as not my thing. Publisher Larry Young is big on the high concept, and Full Moon Fever delivers in that regard, with a pretty simple pitch: werewolves on the moon. Unfortunately, it does absolutely nothing with the idea, stretching out what could easily be the opening 10 minutes of an entertaining B-movie into an overpriced, novella length OGN. Astronauts arrive at deserted moonbase, discover slaughtered scientists, discover werewolves, get picked off one by one, one survivor escapes, end of story. Or is it? One-dimensional characters and a by-the-numbers plot do little to complement Damian Couciero's solid b&w artwork, and the throwaway cliffhanger on the final page left me annoyed that I'd effectively paid $12.95 for a glorified prologue. Grade: D+

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Vol. 1)
By Bryan Lee O'Malley (ONI Press, 2004; 11.95)

What can I say? Sometimes, the comics blogiverse is right. Unlike DEMO and Street Angel, both of which were incredibly overrated, Scott Pilgrim lives up to its billing as one of the best indie comics in recent years. Fun and irreverant, Bryan Lee O'Malley's Canadian slacker is one of the most appealing fictional characters I've come across, with or without pictures, and by the end of this first volume, I had a shit-eating grin on my face as I anticipated jumping right into Volume 2. (Which I did, but I'll save that review for a later date.) I laughed out loud several times throughout the story, but more importantly, I felt connected to each of the primary characters, interested to see what happens to them next, not because of the [insane] plot they were involved in, but because I cared about what fate had in store for them. Which is weird, because I usually hate slacker stories. Scott Pilgrim, though, is awesome! Grade: A

Strange Girl Vol. 1: Girl Afraid
By Rick Remender, Eric Nguyen (Image Comics, 2005; $12.99)

Real quick on this one, as I'm thinking my first Indie Roundup column for Buzzscope is going to cover Rick Remender's recent output, including this TPB. Great premise and solid scripting, combined with artwork that alternates between beautifully provocative and annoyingly indecipherable, sometimes on the same page. Well worth the cover price, though, and I'm adding the series to my pull list. Grade: B+

Okay, Grant Morrison time...

Batman: Arkham Asylum (15th Anniversary Edition)
By Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (DC Comics, 2004; $17.99)

As it was originally published in 1989, I feel like I have to cut it some slack and consider it in that context, the same way new readers of Watchmen have to approach that seminal piece of work. On the other hand, if one of the defining characteristics of art is how it stands the test of time, I'd think such context should be unimportant. Either way, I don't buy into this rather surface look at the thin line separating Batman and his villains. As is typical with these kinds of stories, where the writer has an interesting idea - in this case, the sordid history of Arkham Asylum - and attempts to shoehorn in whichever characters are at hand to tell it, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. There's a couple of good moments here, but the underlying plot and really dumb ending overshadow them completely. I had fully intended to read the first draft of the script that's included with this anniversary edition, but by the time I was done with the main story, I had no interest. It's like watching the DVD extras for a movie you were only mildly entertained by. Who cares? McKean's art is quite nice, generally speaking, but ill-suited for Morrison's relatively straightforward sequential narrative. Grade: C+

JLA: New World Order
By Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell (DC Comics, 1997; $7.95)

Wow. Another case of context, perhaps? Because based on the praise Morrison's received for his run on JLA, comics must've really sucked when this first came out. Wooden characterization, ridiculous plot and lousy art. Lame, lame, lame. Grade: D

7 Soldiers of Victory: Volume One
By Grant Morrison and a bunch of artists with wildly varied styles (DC Comics, 2006; $14.99)

I was intrigued by this little project when it was first announced, more for its attempt to revive Z-list characters and breathe new life into them than for the larger story Morrison's apparently working towards, a harrowing of some sort that seems to parallel, if not directly tie in to, the universe-changing effects of Infinite Crisis. Setting it in NYC also helped. Unfortunately, these initial [re]intros to Zatanna, the Guardian, the Shining Knight and Klarion the Witchboy mostly left me flat. Zatanna and Klarion are the most interesting of the bunch; the Guardian is an annoying combination of kewl concepts and by-the-numbers plotting; and the Shining Knight was relatively incomprehensible when approached on its own merits. The #0 issue, featuring a group of sad sack, ill-fated (original?) heroes taking on a magical spider, uses the Countdown method of build 'em up to kill 'em off and kickstart the Big Story(tm) that left me compleletly uninterested in how this all ties together, and highly unlikely to pick up Volume 2 to sate my curiosity about Zatanna and Klarion's stories. The key to big events is that they bring all your favorites into play. Something like this, featuring a cast of lesser-knowns, needs to rely on strong characterization to sustain interest, and Morrison misses the boat there. Grade: B-

A side note: between Klarion and Iron Man: The Inevitable, Frazier Irving is one artist to keep an eye on. I like his style a lot.

17 January 2006

On The Shelves: 1/18/06

Support GOOD Comics! Try something new EVERY month!

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 1/18/06. The full shipping is list available at ComicList.

[NOTE: Not all of these titles will actually arrive in all stores. If your LCBS offers a pre-ordering service, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, find another one; or try Khepri.com or MidtownComics.com]

7 Days To Fame #2 (Of 3), $3.99

One of several comics I owe a review of, the first issue was...interesting.

Vaistron #3, $2.95

Robot porn and so much more from the same sick bastard who writes GI Joe: Sigma Six!

Gold Digger #71, $2.99

Bought the Color Remix last week and it wasn't bad, especially considering it's 15-year old material. Not pull list material, necessarily, but not bad.

Brian Pulidos Medieval Lady Death Fierce Cvr #6, $5.99
Warren Ellis Apparat Vol 1 TPB, $12.99

If I were a budding serial killer looking for an angle, I'd totally go after the guys buying all the Lady Death crap Avatar puts out. OTOH, I really liked Quit City and...um, one of the other Apparat one-shots I can't recall at the moment, so I'll be picking up the TPB.

Conan #24, $2.99
Penny Arcade Vol 1 Attack Of The Bacon Robots TPB, $12.95

Apparently I wasn't the only one who picked up the $.25 Penny Arcade a while back and was unimpressed. And yet, it seems to have a big, rabid following, many of whom seem to acknowledge the preview wasn't the best introduction. So what happened? How do you blow that kind of opportunity?

All Star Superman #2, $2.99
Batgirl #72, $2.50
Ex Machina #17, $2.99
Infinite Crisis #4 (Of 7), $3.99
Losers #31, $2.99
Sgt Rock The Prophecy #1 (Of 6), $2.99
Testament #2, $2.99

In the next day or two, I'll have some CBC Quickees posted, including a handful of Grant Morrison TPBs which will serve to explain why I can't be bothered with his ASS. (Ha! All the Morrisonians just cringed at that horrible pun. Kinda like my reaction to the subway pirates.) Only one more issue of The Losers after this one. Testament #1 was really intriguing and I'm anxious to see if it can fulfill its potential.

GI Joe Americas Elite 2nd Ptg #3, $2.95

A 2nd printing of the 3rd issue, after #7 just came out and a TPB on the way? Interesting.

Girls #9, $2.99

Someone raised an interesting point about my annoyance over Silver Bullet's recent advertising, suggesting ads for Girls that've run on Buzzscope in the past had similar potential to offend, or at least play down to the comics geek stereotype. I can't disagree, and as someone who criticized the first couple of issues of the series itself for its one-dimensional characters and cliché-ridden dialogue, I cringe every time that big ad of theirs pops up. However, the difference, IMO, is that it's the Lunas' using their own images to advertise their own product, not co-opting someone else's for commercial use and tacking on a cheesy tagline. Subtle, perhaps, but there is a difference.

Living In Infamy #2 (Of 4), $2.95

One of several comics I owe a review of, the first issue was...interesting.

Iron Man The Inevitable #2 (Of 6), $2.99
New Mangaverse #1 (Of 5), $2.99
X-Factor 2nd Ptg Var #1, $2.99
X-Statix Presents Dead Girl #1 (Of 5), $2.99

Has the world gone mad? Iron Man; Manga, Marvel-style; a random X-book; and a variant cover, all on my pull list!?!?! I'm killing comics!

Jenna #2 (Of 3), $3.95

Picked up Touch #1 on a lark last week, curious about this new publisher. That particular cat's dead, and there's no future satisfaction in store for it.

Manga Magazine Takuhai #3 (Of 4), AR

Are they selling this now, too? I better still get my free copy, and it better show up in my mailbox by tomorrow.

Back Issue #14, $6.95
Comics Buyers Guide Apr 2006 #1615, $5.99
Lo Fi Dec 2005 Vol 2 #3 Cvr A, $5.95

Circulation 101: What's one of the best ways to lose a potential (or lapsed) subscriber? Offer a trial subscription and let two issues go by without sending them their first one. Each copy of CBG I've left on the shelves since I placed my trial subscription a while back has reinforced my decision that I didn't need a Wizard substitute, same way I didn't need Wizard. Lo Fi had a chance to fill that position, too, and blew it badly.

15 January 2006

VS. CARD OF THE WEEK: Hercules (MAV-013)

Take two friends who love comics. Add a superhero-themed collectible card game. Sprinkle a dash of competitiveness, and a lump of testosterone. The result? Weekly matches that turn friends into nemeses.

This is not your typical "card of the week" column. Every web site dedicated to CCGs has been there and done that. This column is all about our competition, though. Guy and I usually play two games of Vs. a week, and every Sunday, we'll feature the card that we think most influenced the outcome of the matches we played the preceding week, and the metagaming lessons we learned in the process.

Card of the Week:

Hercules MAV-013

About a month ago I built and began to play with an Avengers Reservist Deck. Follow this link to get an idea as to what type of deck I'm using if you're unfamiliar with Vs. System Cards. The Character cards listed are almost a perfect match to my deck, except I have not included Beast, Black Knight, Black Panther, or Tasmanian Devil, in favor of more Plot Twists.

Before I go on, let me try to quickly explain the Reservist Mechanic. We haven't discussed it here on CBC, and without some knowledge you won't be able to fully appreciate my bonehead play that made Hercules our Card Of The Week.

The overriding theme with the Avengers Expansion of Vs. System is the Reservist mechanic. It allows you to recruit characters from your Resource Row into play, as long as the characters have the Reservist characteristic. In the past, if you didn't have a Plot Twist, Location or Equipment card to put in your Resource Row, you had no choice but to use a character card as a resource. Normally once a card is in your Resource Row, it can't come into the field of play. This happens on a regular basis, and sometimes you get burned by doing this.

Occasionally, the card you wanted to have played in round 6 is inaccessible because you used it as a resource in round 3. As a result, you're forced to recruit under the curve and play a 5 drop or lower cost character card(s). If your opponent hits the curve and plays his 6 drop, you're probably going to be in trouble this round.

Reservist cards can prevent this from happening. In fact, you want to put Reservists in your Resource Row.

In my opinion, the best aspect of Vs. is how it incorporates the traits of the comic book characters into the game. (The Avengers Expansion also introduced the Leader mechanic, with characters like Captain America and Iron Man offering bonuses to their teammates.) One thing that the comic book Avengers have had since the beginning are Reservists, heroes they would call into action during times of great need. Vs. has now built that idea into the game. In fact, not only can you pull a Reservist card from your resource row into play, many game effects and Plot Twists are dependent on how many Reservists are in your Resource Row. Go back and follow the link above. Check out the Plot Twists "Call Down The Lightning" and "Heroes In Reserve". Those are two great examples of how the mechanics of this deck work. In a Reservist deck, Plot Twists, Character Powers, and other game effects faithfully recreate the team aspect of the Avengers.

I hope I've made some sense with my explanation of what a Reservist is, and how it works. If you have any questions shoot us a comment, and we'll respond ASAP. Now back to our regularly scheduled column...

It's the 7th round, and Guy is beating me in a relatively tight game. I have the initiative, with 3 characters in play, before my recruit step. After drawing my two cards, I recruit Hercules from my Resource Row, and replace him with one of the cards I just drew. This was the perfect situation for Hercules to come into play.

Hercules power reads:
"Reveal three face-down reservist resources you control >>> Ready Hercules. Hercules cannot cause breakthrough while attacking characters this turn. Use this power only once per turn."
The most effective way to play Hercules is to have him attack a lower-cost character, and not have him get stunned during the counter attack. You also want to consider how much possible breakthrough you'd get. After your attack - assuming Hercules didn't get stunned - when he is exhausted, reveal 3 Reservists from your Resource row to ready him for a second attack.

The way the playing field was set up after Guy's recruit step, I had a clear advantage. He didn't recruit anyone this round and had 2 visible characters and 1 concealed. I had 3 visible characters and 1 concealed. Using Hawkeye's Activated Power, I stunned Lady Vic for my first attack step. It was during my second attack where I screwed up, though.

I proposed an attack with Hercules against Batgirl. Now, at face value, this is a clear win for Hercules. His 16 attack and 16 defense is no match for Batgirl's 8 attack, and 7 defense. But Guy had some tricks up his sleeve. Batgirl was equipped and her attack was pumped up to 12. Still, that wasn't the problem, as I'd taken that into account. What I didn't anticipate were some well timed Plot Twists Guy played to boost her attack to 16. That was a problem! Batgirl could now stun me during the counter attack, and I had no way of boosting my defense. Guy and I traded mutual stuns during my attack, and Hercules's power didn't factor into the game. With no visible characters left, my final attack struck directly into Guy's endurance total. When my final attack was over Guy had -3 endurance, with his attack step left before the round would finish.

Guy only had one character card left for his attack step, the concealed Dr. Destiny. Even though I had the card advantage on the field of play, Guy had a legitimate shot at winning this game. He proposed an attack with Dr. Destiny against my exhausted Hawkeye. With the potential of breakthrough damage of 7, in addition to the stun loss of 4, that attack would have caused me 11 points, and the game. But I had one last trick up my sleeve.

In my concealed area, I had Rick Jones as backup, and did he come in handy! At the beginning of the round, when I recruited Hercules, I also recruited Rick Jones. I used his power so I wouldn't have to pay for his recruit cost. When Guy proposed his attack to Hawkeye, I used Rick Jones' Activated Power, and targeted Hawkeye. As a result, no breakthrough took place. I only took a 4 point loss to my endurance total instead of 11. With no attackers left for Guy to use, the round was over.

The final tally: Guy -3, and Dan 0. The closest match we've ever played. I ended up winning, but it was sheer luck. I would have comfortably beaten my nemesis if I had played that round correctly. By attacking Batgirl with Wonder Man, my other ready attacker, it would have allowed Hercules two attacks directly into Guy's endurance for 32 points of damage. But I got greedy. I wanted to attack Batgirl with Hercules, get breakthrough damage with that attack, and then attack Guy directly when Hercules readied using his power.

Usually it's good to be greedy while playing Vs., but in this match-up it almost cost me the game. It's not what Hercules did in the match that made him the Card Of The Week, it's what he didn't do.

14 January 2006

COMMENT: Silver Bullet Comics is at it AGAIN!


I'm sure they consider this one more subtle than the last one they ran, with Power Girl's heaving breasts and a "What a pair!" tagline, which Ronée took them to task for and was quickly removed.

Nice way to live down to a stereotype. Idiots!

And what does that say about Matt Brady, who presumably approves these ads that run on his site? Spineless.

The original's linked over on the Buzz Blog, so it'll be interesting to see if/when they edit it, like they did last time.

EDIT: Just want to clarify that this is Silver Bullet Comics, the North Carolina retailer and one of NEWSarama's main sponsors, not Silver Bullet Comics, the online comics webzine.

EDIT #2: So I showed this to my wife, curious over whether I was overreacting or not, and after a confused, "What? It's a guy in drag with boobs?" followed by laughter, I clicked over to NEWSarama to show it to her in context, and realized she wasn't "getting it" because, in her mind, such a thing made sense for a comic book web site.

"It's like going to Vidal Sassoon and being surprised by all the pictures of hair."

So now I don't know whether to put the pitchforks away with a sigh, or be frustrated that, despite how much she knows about comics from me, and has enjoyed several I've given her, she still has such a low opinion (or is it low expectations?) of them and those who read them.

"I haven't seen anything that says that stereotype is unfair," she explains. "When you walk into a store, 75% of what you see is boobs, if not practically bare, then like Aeon Flux, covered but they manage to still be drawn to see the cleavage through the clothes."

Gesturing towards the pile of comics stacked next to our bed, she says, "Knowing how little interest I have in T&A and explosions, out of what, a couple of thousand comics you have, could you give me more than 10 I might be interested in?"


She adds, realizing I'm blogging this conversation, "You might want to add that I'm not one of these women that's like, 'ooo, look at this industry!' I watch porn; it's not about that."

So, yeah, thanks Silver Bullet, NEWSarama and all of the other Boy's Club idiots out there for effectively countering the good work of Debbie Huey, Kyle Baker, Gabriel Benson and Jeff Amano, and most recently, Will Eisner. (All of whom have produced work she's enjoyed.) Because apparently, no matter what good is out there in the industry, simple-minded crap like the above ad - which, BTW, is animated on the site itself, with a little peek-a-boobie action - is what will continue to represent comics to the non-fan.


LINK: Batgirl Meme

All the cool kids are doing it! The ones that can draw, at least. :-)

A few of my favorites:

By Dean Trippe

By Barbara Babs

By 蟲ノ子

And Tania Del Rio's, which is too big to show here.

There's a shitload more here, in what has to be considered one of the best memes ever! Most of the ones I've looked at went with Barbara Gordon, but if could draw, I would have gone with Cassandra Cain.

EDIT: Last one!

By Prince Amanda

13 January 2006

INFO: PCS & NY Comic-Con

Mark your calendars, people, because Buzzscope/PopCultureShock is taking the New York Comic-Con by storm! More info here.

12 January 2006

LINK: Making Comics Better

Jason Rodriguez is a man on a mission. Realizing talking about comics doesn't make them better, he's taking action on two different fronts.

1) The Hive: A collaborative brainstorming project to create new markets for comics.

Yeah, in a way, it's "talking" about comics, but instead of the usual message board whining and gnashing of teeth, Jason's challenging people to come up with actionable ideas to make comics better. And he's leading by example, tossing up an idea every two weeks for discussion and debate, with an eye towards creating a viable template for indie publishers to follow to break free of the constraints of the direct market. This week, for the initial installment, he's starting at the beginning: "Building a better comic book."

2) Editing Assistance: Parlaying his work on the critically acclaimed Elk's Run, he's also offering direct assistance to aspiring comics writers.

His offer:

The idea is, 40 word pitches for a story, if I like it I request 3-8 pages of script and if I like that we lay down an edit and post it online as a teaching tool for would be writers. Just sort of an introduction to the sequential medium, what works and what doesn't and how it'll look on page, how your book should be structured and how to write your scripts in such a way that they don't scare off artists, publishers, other writers, etc.

The story itself can be a stand alone short for an anthology (which I would 100% prefer) or it could be something longer but under the understanding that in order to properly edit it, at least pieces of the entire story might have to be revealed. But never more than 10 pages of script. Full links, plugs and promotion and when you go to some anthology with your story you can even say "edited by Jason Rodriguez, the guy that worked on Eisner winning Elk's Run". Except, you know, wait until we win the Eisner.
It's a more positive and proactive response to Robert Kirkman's "You Suck" column last week than I would have come up with. Because I've read a few issues of Marvel Team-Up, you know, and Invincible didn't really impress me all that much.

So, two examples of using the internet for good instead of evil. What have YOU done for comics today?

10 January 2006

COMMENT: Buzzscope Update

I just sent out an email to all of our columnists updating them on what's what over at Buzzscope and, in doing so, was rather impressed with the roster we've put together over the past couple of months. Check it out:

Ronée Garcia Bourgeois' "What A Girl Wants" (every Monday)
Jim Salicrup's "Addicted to Comics" (every Wednesday)

Fangirl Rampage, by Lauren Perry (1st & 3rd Thursdays)
The Hive, by Jason Rodriguez (2nd & 4th Thursdays)
Comics You Should Own, by Greg Burgas (2nd & 4th Fridays)

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez' "Establishing Shots" (1st Thursdays)
Tania Del Rio's "Read This Way" (1st Fridays)
Eric Shanower's "Man of the Hour" (2nd Thursdays)
Michael Oeming's "OEMED!" (2nd Fridays)
Neil Kleid's "Take That!" (3rd Thursdays)
Dave Rodriguez' "Servant of Two Masters" (3rd Fridays)
Jenny Gonzalez' "Column TBA" (4th Thursdays)
Rich Watson's "What's A Nubian?" (4th Fridays)
The "Battleground Spotlight" (3rd Saturdays)
Comics By The Numbers, by Kurt Addams (4th Saturdays)

That is, without question, the most diverse range of comics-related content anywhere on the internet. [pats self on back]

I can't take credit for all of it, though, as several of these were already in the works or active when I took over as editor, including Ronée, Salicrup, Kleid, Shanower, Del Rio and Oeming's columns. The latter two were actually supposed to be a part of the initial Buzzscope relaunch last year but, for different reasons, didn't debut until recently. Oeming's was a total (but pleasant) surprise to me, actually. The Battleground Spotlight was an internal thing and I don't remember whom came up with it, and Perry's column (interviewing female comics fans about what they like to read, in their own words) fell into my lap; the rest is content I recruited specifically for the site. Coming soon will be monthly review columns covering Marvel, DC and Indies, respectively, plus one or two possibilities that I received great queries for and am awaiting samples on.

It's all totally selfish in a way, as it represents my ideal site, all of the content I'd like to read in one place. Hopefully there's a little something for everybody else in there, too.

Next up, as everything settles into place, I want to get back to writing some features myself. In the wheelhouse: a Black History Month Industry Buzz; a Speakeasy follow-up; interviews; Free Comic Book Day 2006 package...and who knows what else?

On The Shelves: 1/11/06

Support GOOD Comics! Try something new EVERY month!

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 1/11/06. The full shipping is list available at ComicList.

[NOTE: Not all of these titles will actually arrive in all stores. If your LCBS offers a pre-ordering service, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, find another one; or try Khepri.com or MidtownComics.com]

Gold Digger Color Remix #1 (Of 4), $2.99

Think I'm going to finally check this one out. Flipped through a couple of issues in the past, and it didn't grab me, but I'm still curious.

Soulfire Vol 1 HC, $24.99

I [sort of] understand the thinking behind hardcover collections for notable creators, particularly mainstream names like Whedon, Hudlin or Heinberg...but Soulfire? Really?

Weta Kong Skull, $40.00
Weta Narnia Lion & Witch Bookends, $175.00
Weta Narnia White Witch Statue, $250.00

Is Dark Horse a public company? Because I'd love to take a look at their annual report to get a sense of how they position themselves.

Batman Hush Returns TPB, $12.99
DC Universe The Stories Of Alan Moore, $19.99
Dmz #3, $2.99
Seven Soldiers Of Victory Vol 1 TPB, $14.99

If that Hush collection is the first Gotham Knights arc, then it's actually pretty good. Too bad it derailed so badly afterwards. Is the DC Universe The Stories Of Alan Moore their way of flipping Moore off? DMZ gets one more chance to impress me before I drop it. I'm totally Wood's audience for it, but it's too didactic and hamhanded even for me. (Remember, I mostly like Hudlin's Black Panther!) I don't necessarily need to like Grant Morrison, but I really want to understand why some people think he's the greatest writer ever. Finally read Arkham Asylum this weekend and found it interesting, but nowhere near being one of the best Batman stories ever. Reserving final judgement, though, for when I finish reading his first-draft script that's included.

GI Joe Americas Elite #7, $2.95
GI Joe Sigma 6 #2, $2.95

Wasn't Adam Fortier involved in getting Devil's Due this license? I mean, it's still what you do with it that counts, but since I've been bashing the guy lately, I want to give credit where it's due.

Super Bad James Dynomite #1, $3.99

Now that Fallen Angel killed my "too expensive" justification for avoiding IDW comics, I may have to check this out. Purely out of morbid curiosity.

Vice Cgc Graded 9.6 Sgn #1, $59.99

Is this new? Publishers selling CGC copies of their own books? That's lame. (And only a 9.6 at that?!?!)

Daughters Of The Dragon #1 (Of 6), $2.99
New Thunderbolts #17, $2.99
Son Of M #2 (Of 6), $2.99

I was pretty skeptical about the Daughters Of The Dragon mini-series, but the preview of the first issue actually looks fun. Now that I've fully caught up on it, New Thunderbolts is now my favorite team book. If you'd have told me this time last year that I'd have any X-books on my pull list, I'd have laughed at you. If you said I'd have a follow-up mini-series to an over-hyped event, I'd have spit on you while laughing. Joke's on me, I guess?

Horrorama Vol 2 GN, $13.90
Morgan Vol 1 GN (Of 2), $6.49
Rash #2 (Of 2), $3.99
Touch Real Miracles Half Price #1 (Of 3), $2.99

Another new publisher jumping into the fray with a ton of press releases and not a single title that's caught my attention.

Lucifers Garden Of Verses Vol 3 The Student HC, $15.95

Still trying to get the first Volume.

Graphic Novel Scene Vol 2 #1, $6.95

Anyone familiar with this magazine?

09 January 2006

Buzzscope Reviews...?

No date in the subject because there are no reviews this week! The Roundup format is going into the shop for a bit while we rethink our approach to reviews. Back when they represented a significant percentage of our content, I felt it was important to have a Roundup every week, even if it meant I had to crank out extra reviews myself just to make it worth running. Same thing's been happening since the switch to capsule reviews, though, making my Sunday nights suck ass as I'd often be up until 2am pulling it all together.

As I've amped up our columns and features, though, I think we're now less dependent on reviews for traffic, and the fact of the matter is most people were only checking them out for the previews that went with them anyway. No previews, or low-profile indies, usually means low traffic. Which can be discouraging, to say the least.

Ideally, I'd like to tap a single voice for a monthly review column. Three, actually, covering Marvel, DC and Indies. I'd likely take the latter on myself, but I've got my eye out for a couple of bloggers with a good grasp of the Big Two's respective slates who can handle the monthly grind of a regularly scheduled column. I wish the Shrew was still around, because she'd be my first choice to take on the DCU. Referrals (or queries) are welcome, BTW.

No reviews doesn't mean nothing to see, though, as Ronée's latest column is, hands down, the best work she's ever done. Following up on her column from two weeks ago, about an alleged sexual assault, she interviews three notable female creators about their own experiences in the industry. Heady stuff. Kudos to all involved for stepping up and speaking out.

Also, debuting later this week are two of our newest columns:

  • OEMED! - Creator-to-creator interviews, by Michael Avon Oeming
  • The Hive - A collaborative brainstorming project to create new markets for comics, by Jason Rodriguez

Bookmark (and link to) the Comics page, and check back often.

08 January 2006

INFO: Comics Bloggers' Poll 2005

Did you "create or contribute to a comics blog" in 2005? Then you probably have some pretty strong opinions about what you liked and didn't like in comics last year, yes? Now you can add your two cents to the discussion in a bit more concentrated way via the Comics Bloggers' Poll 2005.

The comics blogging community is one of contradictions. Some writers enjoy the sensational excitement of mainstream superheroics, while others prefer the quieter and more varied fare of independent works. Some offer considered, even-handed analysis, while others shoot from the hip and refuse to make apologies for their passions. Some have followed comics for years, and bring the voice of experience to their consideration, while others are relatively new to this culture, and are eager to understand why and how it's held the interest of so many for so long. Perhaps the one thing that all comics bloggers can agree on is their love for and interest in the subject, and the breadth of entertaining material that can be found in this medium. While we might not always agree what's good in--and good for--comics, it's probably safe to say that we're all eager to identify that quality, and willing to sing its praises when we do.
Voting closes Sunday, January 15th, so don't delay! If you don't vote, Grant Morrison wins. ;-)

07 January 2006

COMMENT: Late-night Speakeasy Musings

I haven't had the time to really follow up on the whole Speakeasy situation myself, but I have been tracking the comics blogosphere which refuses to let the story die, including this rather humorous addition: Speakeasy Comics Archives, wherein a Jonathan Martin is attempting to pull together everything relating to the company's current woes. (CBR and NEWSarama still haven't bothered to cover it, of course.)

Jason Richards - proprietor of one of my favorite comics shops, R!OT Comics + Culture, in Camp Hill, PA - has been the source of some interesting tidbits (as well as some great, heartfelt snark) lately, including this interesting development:

Oh, and by the way, got RIOT's invoice for next week and a slew of Speakeasy titles were listed as being available for Order Reductions due to "vendor late shipping or mis-solicitation"...so, aside from Strangeways and one or two subscriber copies, i reduced them all to ZERO.
The whole order reduction thing is a big deal in the non-returnable direct market, as it's a rare opportunity for retailers to adjust orders on unforeseen dogs so as to not have to eat the cost of comics headed straight for the quarter bins. (ie: most of Speakeasy's current output, and, sadly, many won't be due to their lack of quality.)

With their post-Ardustry deal change in focus representing something of a 180 from their sign-everything-Image-rejected approach at San Diego Comic-Con last summer, it seems like Fortier is in a bit of a rush to remake the Speakeasy roster. There's a part of me that suspects the 1750 internal cutoff that sparked this whole thing was a bit of a passive-aggressive exercise in clearing the decks; a House of M-style reboot, with the announcement (in a rumor column, of all places!) substituting for the flash of white light: "No more creator-owned comics!"

Speakeasy creators all over woke up to find themselves either depowered, or tainted by the stench of failure.

I'm sure Richards isn't the only retailer cancelling his outstanding orders, esecially in light of Fortier's online continuation policy for cancelled titles. Why should a retailer commit to a title its own publisher won't commit to seeing to completion? If anything, the policy encourages retailers to "wait for the trade," the kiss of death for most indies.

And there's now talk of some license they've secured that will be their savior. Because, you know, licenses do that. Transformers at Dreamwave. The Micronauts at Devil's Due. And hey, wasn't Speakeasy's Adam Fortier, the so-called "smartest man in comics," a key player at both of those publishers before they ran into their respective troubles? Coincidence?

The only reason I don't laugh at the license idea quite as loudly as I normally would is because Chris Butcher says he was "pretty impressed" with whatever it is [see the comments section at the link], and I've recently come to think highly of his opinion and insight. Nevertheless, I can't think of a single available license out there that's got the potential to top what Atomika sold for them back in their salad days of slow growth, high-quality titles and tons of marketing.

Star Wars, Conan and Red Sonja are taken, the first two of which are arguably the most successful licenses going right now. G.I. Joe and Dungeons & Dragons are gone, and doing reasonably well for Devil's Due. Planet of the Apes is taken. (By Mr. Comics, the first issue of which was actually pretty good!)

What's left? ROM? Crystar? Chronicles of Riddick? I'd probably buy all three of those, but like Son of Vulcan, I'd be one of the few.

Star Trek? Do Trekkies read comics?

Maybe a Stephen King-type deal with a Dean Koontz or Robert McCammon? Is Peter Straub Canadian?

I just don't see it.

In the end, though, no matter what the license is or isn't, the fact of the matter is a bunch of well-intentioned comics creators are getting shafted, and as much as I despise the lack of business savvy that's so common with creative types, I can't fully blame them because it's clear that most were somewhat unexpectedly kneecapped. Fortier "smartly" built a company that's structured to not lose him any money - effectively a vanity publisher - making promises he hasn't delivered on and is now trying to skirt his responsibilities to his partners. That's just bad business.

[Edited image from despair.com.]

05 January 2006

COMMENT: Speculation - Evolve or Die?

Paul O'Brien's monthly analysis of Marvel's sales for November 2005 has several interesting tidbits sprinkled througout that suggest speculation isn't dead.

"...NEW AVENGERS, still Marvel's top selling ongoing title. It's actually now below the normal sales level of ASTONISHING X-MEN, mind you, so things might be different when that book resumes publishing. With the lengthy run of variant covers over, NEW AVENGERS has gone into a fairly normal decline."

"'Decimation' has had strangely erratic effects across the X-books, as we'll see. It's entirely likely that Decimation, and the hype for the storyline, has played a big part in the sales jump. But on the other hand, this book has a variant cover, and WOLVERINE issues with variant covers often do better than this."

"The first of this month's Spider-Man stories, as 'The Other' enters its second month. It also means that the variant covers reach the stores, so last month's issue #525 sells a further 9,977 copies. No doubt issue #526 will have re-orders on next month's chart as well."

"Back to 'The Other', and once again variant covers play a big part here. The variant edition of issue #1 charts at number 141 with a total of 14,669 extra copies. That's enough to nudge the issue over the 100K mark."

"The third 'Other' issue, and once again MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN lags noticeably behind the other parts of the crossover. The variant cover of issue #19 sells 9,321 to chart at number 177, giving that issue a decent-looking total."

"A big jump for this month's issue, giving NEW X-MEN its highest sales of the year. Once again, there are several factors behind this jump. It's the first issue by the new creative team. There's a variant cover. The popular X-23 joins the cast. And it's a Decimation crossover."

"Virtually no change from last month. When it isn't being boosted by crossovers or variants, CAPTAIN AMERICA sells very solidly in the mid-40K range. The six-month comparison is a little misleading because May's issue #5 had a variant cover - in reality, the trend is much more stable."
Back in February of last year, I wrote a piece where, among other things, I estimated comics readership to be around 150,000, in response to Brian Michael Bendis' guesstimate of 200,000 "loyal readers". Among the data I looked at was the fact that only three titles broke the 100k barrier in January 2005, average sales figures for the Diamond Top 100 were only 40,592/title, and Wizard's declining circulation figures heading into 2000 which apparently led to their discontinuing their annual audit. (Does anyone have a copy of their November issue? It should contain their Statement of Ownership which, by law, discloses their actual circ numbers.)

One of the things I put forth was that many of the top sellers' numbers were likely boosted by collectors buying duplicates, estimating 10-15% of total sales, plus the extra copies purchased by straight-to-CGC pushers like Wizard, et al, which I estimated at another 10%. Total shot-in-the-dark percentages there, but the basic point remains that speculation hasn't gone away and many of the series that launched with over 100k in sales were likely boosted by it, especially as Marvel and DC have jumped back on variant cover bandwagon. Because, really, I've been reading Dan's copies of "The Other," and beyond speculation - and, of course, it's evil twin, completism - there's no good reason in the world to buy a second copy of any of those issues! :-O

Seriously, though, the question that comes to mind is: after the speculator-driven industry collapse of the 90s, who exactly is still dumb enough to be playing the speculation game?

(PS: Note to self, revisit that piece with updated data.)

04 January 2006

On the Shelves: 1/5/06

Support GOOD Comics! Try something new EVERY month!

Happy new year! My weekly look at select comic books being released THURSDAY, 1/5/06. The full shipping is list available at ComicList.

[NOTE: Not all of these titles will actually arrive in all stores. If your LCBS offers a pre-ordering service, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, find another one; or try Khepri.com or MidtownComics.com]

Alan Moore Spells It Out, $9.95

Spells what out? A-l-a-n S-m-i-t-h-e-e?

Lullaby #2, $2.99
Yenny #2, $2.99

Lullaby has kind of lost me, and I can't honestly say that it's not partly thanks to my feelings about Alias and Mike S. Miller. Pity. Yenny #1 simply didn't work for me.

Doc Frankenstein Sketch Cvr B #4, $3.50
Doc Frankenstein Sketch Cvr Ed #3, $4.95
Doc Frankenstein Skroce Cvr A #4 (resolicited), $3.50

I flipped through the first issue a while back and was mildly intrigued, but it never made it home with me. It did make our Best of 2005 over at Buzzscope, though, so maybe I'll give it another look.

Soulsearchers #75, $2.50

Thanks to Madrox and X-Factor, I picked up Fallen Angel #1 last week and was pleasantly surprised. I checked out a jump-on issue of SoulSearchers last year, though, and wasn't impressed at all. C'est la vie!

Evil Ernie Straight To Hell Chromium Sgn, $16.00

Ha ha! That's a pun, right? Chromium cover, straight to hell? Right? Sigh.

Aeon Flux #4 (Of 4), $2.99
Billy The Kids Old Timey Oddities TPB, $13.95
Chronicles Of Conan Vol 9 River Dragons & Others TPB, $16.95

Aeon Flux is done already? Did they release it weekly or something? Billy the Kid caught my eye too late to jump in, but I'm picking up the trade, I think. Father-in-law loved his Vol. 2 of the Busiek/Nord Conan and now wants me to get him Vol. 1. Good work, Mr. Allie!

Batman And The Monster Men #3 (Of 6), $2.99
Gotham Central #39, $2.50
Jonah Hex #3, $2.99
Y The Last Man #41, $2.99

Thank you, Matt Wagner, for an entertaining Batman story. It's apparently a lost art. Only two issues left of Gotham Central, and I seem to be one of its few fans who wasn't feeling the beginning of this final arc. Jonah Hex is on the chopping block this month. First two issues have been solid, if unspectacular, and they need to kick it up a notch or I'm moving on. Rich Watson has me excited about jumping back into Y, despite the fact that I've only read the first TPB and will surely be lost. Nice little accessibility test for Mr. Vaughan, yes?

Squarecat Comics Vol 1 GN, $9.95

Isn't this the Johnny Raygun publisher? Might check it out simply because I love Johnny Raygun.

Doc Samson #1 (Of 5), $2.99

Um...wow! Marvel shot their load last week and there's only Doc Samson, a mini-series I know nothing about. Enjoyed Casey's reference to him in Iron Man: The Inevitable #1, though, so maybe I'll give it a looksee.

Zorro Vol 2 SC, $7.95

Might check this out to see if they worked the kinks out from the shaky first volume. And because Salicrup's cool people.

Shonen Jump Feb 06 #38, $4.99

Finally picked up a copy last month and realized I'm totally not their audience. TokyoPop's free Manga is much more up my alley.

Inquest Gamer #130, $4.99

Must. Resist.

Knucklebones Mar 06 #2, $5.99

That's a cool name! Best Title of the Week. What is it, though?

03 January 2006

COMMENT: Comics & "the Mainstream"

The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon, in his first CR Sunday Magazine of the new year, said:

"Screw being mainstream anyway. Comics has a lot of its cultural power not just as a secondary art form, but as a semi-disgraced secondary art form. I think because of their personal neuroses, which in many cases expresses itself in a desire to be popular, some comics fans put too much stock in a wide audience. The goofballs who write 'According to Jim' have a bigger audience than the playwright Tony Kushner. But who has the more admirable, effective and ultimately desirable creative platform? I'd say Kushner."
I've said many times how much I respect Spurgeon's writing on comics, that I think he's one of the best at what he does, but it doesn't mean I always agree with him. "Screw being mainstream" is the pouty equivalent of the nerd claiming he doesn't care about being popular - or, more honestly, simply being accepted for who/what he is - lying through his teeth while mocking those who do.

It's a disingenuous argument at best; defeatist and self-prophetic at worst. It reminds me of the way performing poets are treated, that they should be thrilled to have any audience at all and being paid for their efforts is a luxury, not a right. Just like Kushner didn't balk at his play, Angels in America, reaching a larger audience via HBO, comics creators (and activist fans) shouldn't settle for simply playing in the direct market sandbox, or for being considered "a semi-disgraced secondary art form."

It's one thing for an individual creator to be satisfied with creating art for art's sake, as it were, but to suggest an entire industry be perceived that way is absolutely ludicrous. Just like there are millions of rational, liberal human beings living happily in the so-called Red States, the "mainstream" is not some distasteful, monolithic (nor moronic) audience that one should be ashamed of aspiring to reach. I'd wager Kushner would be thrilled to have a similar platform as the According to Jim "goofballs' to work from.

It's what you do with it that counts, and I believe that every artist's goal should be, at some level, to reach as wide an audience as possible without compromising one's integrity. Otherwise, it's not really art; it's masturbation.

02 January 2006

COMMENT: Newsarama Interview with JQ, Part II

Last week I posted the following portion of an interview Newsarama did with Joe Quesada.

"NRAMA: "When do the events in Spider-Man: The Other, Secret War, and House of M happen in relation to one another?"

JQ: Actually, we have this listed somewhere but it's now 3:45AM and I can't think straight. Not copping out on you but lets get back to this question next week and I'll have the info handy."
I was curious to see if JQ would answer the question the following week, or if he would duck it completely. More importantly though, would Newsarama ask it again? The newest edition of Joe Fridays has been posted for a few days now, and there's no sign of an answer.

So, this is the payoff for readers. We're bombarded by the hype machine JQ is running with the column, and he can't answer one simple question. Shame on Newsarama for not following up. If it was important enough 2 weeks ago to ask about it, why not now?

Buzzscope No Mo--?

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… but Batman always has a back-up plan!

My latest Establishing Shots is up, wherein I pull a Quesada, explaining what happened to the big January 2, 2006 surprise. I also announce three of our newest columnists, one of whom hasn't been announced anywhere else yet.

Meanwhile, Ronée Garcia Bourgeois is out to ruffle feathers, again, with her latest What A Girl Wants: "Ten Ways To Get the Bitches to Read Your Comics."

Yeah, 2006 is off to a great start!

Be sure to check out the tweaked Comics section, too, which now makes it a bit easier to find more of our comics content in one place, including our newest previews and impressive array of columnists. Baby steps, my friends; baby steps.

Happy new year!