31 July 2006

Link: The Dark Knight vs. Ennis Del Mar?

heath ledger

About 3 hours ago, Superhero Hype! posted that the Batman Begins sequel will be titled "The Dark Knight". More importantly the role of the Joker has been won by Heath Ledger, a.k.a. Ennis Del Mar from Brokeback Mountain.

By the looks of it, he's been practicing for awhile. Look at that picture. If that's not a modern day interpretation of the Joker, then I don't know what is. My guess is that this Joker will be one bad ass....shut your mouth!

28 July 2006

On The Web: Joe Q. on Colbert Report

Other websites may write about it, but we here at CBC deliver the goods.
For your viewing pleasure, sit back, relax, & enjoy the show.

26 July 2006

On the Shelves: 7/26/06

Read GOOD Comics, not just the ones you're used to! Try something new EVERY month.

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 7/26/06. 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]


Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud Mountain

Bumperboy & Loud Loud Mountain GN, $8.95

Only irredeemably evil people would take a pass on Bumperboy, the best thing to hit all-ages comics since...well, ever. On my Top 5 list of "Things I'll Do When I Win the Lottery", #4 is a one million copy print run of both Bumperboy GNs, all of which I will donate to the NYC Board of Education for distribution to every single school age kid from Pre-K through High School. Save your immortal soul and pick up a copy of Bumperboy and the Loud Loud Mountain today.

Mouse Guard 2nd Ptg #2, $3.50

If you're still sleeping on Mouse Guard -- or, for that matter, anything Archaia publishes these days -- you're doing yourself a serious disservice.

A handful of random comics with a million variant covers each...

If you were to purchase a single copy of everything Avatar is releasing this week, including every one of the multiple variant covers, you'd spend a total of $280.29. Figuring a minimum retailer discount of 50%, they're spending $140.15 to stock a single copy of everything Avatar is releasing this week. At a glance, this is the norm for Avatar on any given Wednesday. Who's buying this stuff?

Black Plague One Shot, $3.99
Jeremiah Harm #4, $3.99
Second Wave War O/T Worlds #5, $2.99

No advance reviews this week, just brief notes on each. Black Plague: Decent, if inconsequential, one-shot from Joe Casey that felt like something he had sitting in his files for a while and tossed to Boom! as a way to spread his brand. *** Jeremiah Harm #4: Giffen's decompressed, by-the-numbers quipfest nears its conclusion. *** Second Wave #5: "War of the Worlds" is officially dropped from the title as of this issue, which continues Michael Alan Nelson's solid tale of post-apocalyptic America coming apart at the seams.

American Way #6 (Of 8), $2.99
Astro City Samaritan Special, $3.99
Batman #655, $2.99
Blue Beetle #5, $2.99
Crisis Aftermath The Spectre #3 (Of 3), $2.99
Jack Of Fables #1, $2.99

American Way continues to fly under pretty much everybody's radar, despite being one of the best comics on the shelves right now, and this issue introduces its own twist on the Civil War motif that's running through both of the Big Two's universes right now. *** Astro City: The Dark Age was my first introduction to Busiek's personal playground, and I liked it enough to want to check out more, so the Samaritan Special gets a looksee. *** Not being a Grant Morrison fan -- can you feel the internerd cringe at the thought? -- I'm not nearly as psyched about his taking over my favorite DC character, but he does have the advantage of following the overrated hackery of Jeph Loeb and the creatively bankrupt Judd Winick, who actually managed to get me to cut Batman from my pull list for the first time since I got back into reading comics. *** Hopefully Blue Beetle #5 picks up the pace a bit as it feels like this opening story arc is crawling along at a snail's pace, and only the likeability of the primary cast is keeping me interested. That won't last forever, though. *** If The Spectre mini was a typical 6-issue arc, I'd have dropped it after the last issue. Having gone 2/3rds of the way in, though, I'll reluctantly finish it out. *** I'm up to the 3rd volume of Fables' TPBs and am enjoying the series enough that I'll likely end up reading through the whole thing, so the timing of this new Jack Of Fables spinoff is perfect.

Afterworks Vol 2 GN, $24.99
Godland #12, $2.99

Both Afterworks volumes and 24seven are on my wish list for when I can afford them, as they appear to be some of the most interesting work Image has published in a while. *** Godland is one of the last Image titles I'm buying as a floppy, and that's only to complete the arc. It moves to wait-for-the-trade after this one.

All New Off Handbook Marvel Universe A To Z #7, $3.99
Avengers & Power Pack Assemble #4 (Of 4), $2.99
Black Panther #18 CW, $3.99
Captain America #20, $2.99
Civil War Young Avengers & Runaways #1 (Of 4), $2.99
Daredevil #87, $2.99
Powers #19, $2.95
Storm #6 (Of 6), $2.99

It's another expensive House of Ideas week for me as, except for the YA/Runaways team-up, everything here is a must-read for me. That one exception is more a curiosity thing, to see if yet another writer does a better job with the Civil War concept than its primary chronicler. Not a difficult thing, for sure, but it says a lot about the smoke and mirrors effect of the star system the Big Two employ. ie: If Marvel and Wizard keep insisting that Mark Millar is a great writer, and Marvel keeps putting him on high-profile projects that are going to sell well regardless, it sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Until, of course, you look at the steadily declining sales figures of any of his writing projects that last more than a six-issue arc, where his first issue offers a boost that can almost always be connected to a combination of a full-court-press from the hype machine (Marvel's and his own) and variant covers and incentive deals for retailers, before tailing off back to numbers attainable by most of their B-list creators if given similar marketing support.

Werewolves Call O/T Wild #2, $3.50

I really liked the first issue of this mini-series and am looking forward to this one. Good werewolf comics are hard to come by and Mike Oliveri and Joe Bucco have come up with an intriguing premise in Call of the Wild.

Bluesman Vol 3 GN, $8.95
Brownsville TPB, $12.95

I've yet to get around to reviewing the first two volumes of Bluesman, but suffice to say that they are excellent reading and would be a great addition to any bookshelf. *** I missed out on the Brownsville HC but am looking forward to finally getting a chance to read it in my preferred softcover format.

24 July 2006

REVIEW: Uncle Sam and The Freedom Fighters #1

A city devastated by metahumans. Political intrigue and post-9/11 fear-mongering. Heroes pitted against the government and each other, forced to choose between wildly uneven sides.

Marvel's Civil War?

No, actually, it's DC's Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #1, "from the pages of Brave New World" and spinning out of the events of the Battle for Blüdhaven! So, did writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray pinch Mark Millar's notes, or vice versa? Or, have the Big Two simply hit the inevitable bottom of the "big idea" barrel and are now scraping up similar muck from its depths?

Whatever the reason, credit Palmiotti and Gray for doing more with less -- Battle for Blüdhaven excepted, as I only quickly flipped through the last issue to see where Uncle Sam was coming from -- if for no other reason than their use of less-familiar characters requires them to actually dig a little deeper in telling their story, offering solid characterization and plotting where Millar opts for lazy "F*@% Yeah Moments" designed solely to titillate the fanboys, while leaving the real storytelling to the likes of Fabian Nicieza (Thunderbolts), Peter David (X-Factor) and David Hine (Civil War: X-Men).

It's an election year in the DC Universe and Senator Knight, Phantom Lady's father, is on the Presidential campaign trail, proclaiming the dangers of unregulated metahuman activity and the sacrifices required for freedom. Palmiotti and Gray offer a jarring juxtaposition as agents of S.H.A.D.E. ("Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, the final solution to unsolvable problems") violently and decisively take out an Intergang drug runner during his five-year-old son's birthday party. The two scenes hit a note of comic book "realism" that Lex Luthor as President and Wonder Woman's snapping Max Lord's neck couldn't, primarily because we don't really know these characters as well and, unlike most of the major spandex icons, their actions make sense in context.

The first issue puts a lot of meat on the table, setting multiple sub-plots in motion while offering brief but effective glimpses into several of the primary characters' heads. Doll Man -- a miniature, flesh-and-blood G.I. Joe with a license to kill -- and the much-maligned Phantom Lady -- Jenna Bush with super powers and triple-Ds -- get a couple of nice, humanizing moments, and have the inside track on being my favorite characters. A humorous scene featuring the Human Bomb serves as a perfect metaphor for the two sides of the story's underlying premise, while also illustrating the fledgling team's dynamics and chain of command.

S.H.A.D.E. architect and commander Father Time is exactly what Civil War is missing, a more believable representation of a government that views metahumans as a potential terrorist threat and is willing to "do whatever is necessary to protect our freedom." He completely crosses the line in the name of of the greater good, and it works because there's no meta-thinking about Life Model Decoys or clones or mind control or whatever deus ex machina Millar's going to have to pull out to make his story work.

Visually, Daniel Acuña's artwork is extremely hit and miss, as if he cherry-picked his favorite scenes to spend the most time on while whipping out the rest at double-time speed. The whole is greater than the sum of its unequal parts, though, as his style is distinctive and appealing, and Javi Montes' coloring is a nice complement. Hopefully he's way ahead of schedule as it would be disappointing to see a fill-in artist (or a delay) on this eight-issue mini-series.

Civil War is pure spandex fan-on-fan service; no foreplay, no kiss, no dinner and a movie...barely an exchange of names before "wham, bam...you have to go before my mom gets home." If you feel cheap afterwards, it's your own fault because you knew what kind of comic book it was when you picked it up.

Uncle Sam, on the other hand, just might be the one your parents warned you about. All candy and roses and promises in the beginning, it's probably going to break your heart because, in the end, all superhero comics are alike. It's how they treat you before it's over that counts, though, and Uncle Sam is starting off with all the right moves. Maybe this time it'll be different?

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #1, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Daniel Acuña (DC Comics, July 2006; $2.99)

NOTE: Uncle Sam, like several other recent DC comics, bears the annoying little disclaimer, "Based on ideas and concepts developed by Grant Morrison." That he rates such prominent credit for remixing other people's creations while Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Arthur Peddy, Paul Gustavson, Len Wein and Dick Dillin all go uncredited is reprehensible.

Say What?: State of the Union Edition

"The members of the 9/11 Commission, since we finished our work, have been very careful not to participate in a number of documentaries and at least a couple of books on the subject. We have believed since the beginning that what we have said and the official report itself ought to stand alone on its own merits. Then this came along as the exception."
--Senator Slade Gorton, SDCC '06: THE 9/11 REPORT

"Unlike the past couple of years, this Comic-Con wasn't marked by the frenzy of creator-exclusive announcements -- most of the "marquee names" at Marvel and DC are already under contract. And with 52 and Civil War only really beginning, and Infinite Crisis and House of M still in our rearview mirrors, there wasn't talk of The Next Crossover That Will Change Everything."
--Kevin Melrose, Comic-Con: There's got to be a morning after

"What I wasn't seeing was any way of addressing audience stagnation or expansion of comics outside the direct market, or the aggressive creation of new characters that are likely to appeal to new readers or anything resembling genre diversification. What I saw from the big two, certainly, was a lot of treading water."
--Matt Maxwell, This year, you betcha

"Also, it seems to me that maybe DC's 52 in this month started what seems likely to be a sustained drop, while Civil War is performing ahead of expectations, although that's only a hunch. I like making that hunch because it kind of parallels the fortunes of the film industry, where Time Warner's Superman Returns seems to lack legs while Marvel would represent all the studios with poorly reviewed blockbusters that people like anyway."
--Tom Spurgeon, ICv2.com: 18 June Comic Books 100K+

"Instead of dumping two hundred million dollars or so into superhero movie series that come out with installments every, oh, say, three or four years or so, why not give twenty million to the guys who do some of the better fanfilms (like Grayson or World's Finest ) and have them produce a superhero movie serial? Weekly or biweekly installments, not more than about ten minutes long, plugged in front of whatever the new release happens to be that week. Might get some people back into the habit of going to the movies on a regular basis..."
--Mike Sterling, Some random stuff.

"The savvy comics shops are reaching out. The bread-and-butter appeal of someone like us is that we carry a lot of stuff, like Abrams Image, at close to Diamond's discounts."
--John Davis, Comics Shops Turn to Book Distributors for Graphic Novels

"600 million teenagers. Think about that number. That's twice as many people as there are in America, from infants to the elderly. One doesn't have to squint hard to read between the lines: There is a hell of a lot of money to be made in India. And you don't have to ape other cultures to do it; India has more than enough source material to work with. So why does Devi look so much like something Top Cow would put out?"
--Ken Lowery, Devi #1

22 July 2006

PANEL: X-Factor #9

X-Factor #9
Art by Dennis Calero and Jose Villarrubia
Written by Peter David
July 2006, Marvel Comics

HYPE: Comic Book Challenge Finalists

One of PopCultureShock's contributors, Ryan Burton (who conducted the recent Becky Cloonan interview, and has a couple more in the pipeline), has been named a finalist in Platinum Studios' Comic Book Challenge for his story "The Six Sinners".

"The Six Sinners is about a group of people make a pact with the devil to capture the human incarnations of the deadly sins, only to find out the devil wants them to become the sins themselves." (Emmanuel Xerx Javier is the artist.)

Go forth now and vote.

21 July 2006

LINK: Comic Movie Tidbits

ITEM: Heath Ledger as the Joker? Hmm... not a terrible choice, but I don't know that he's got the required gravitas for the role. If that's the direction Nolan is going, though, I'd rather see Ryan Phillipe given a shot at it. Of course, my number one choice remains Terrence Howard.

ITEM: The Incredible Hulk's new director is Louis Leterrier -- of the action-heavy The Transporter movies -- confirming the expected 180 degree shift from Ang Lee's somber take on the Green Goliath. Screenwriter Zak Penn seems to be on the right track, talking about how the sequel/remake/reboot will be different from the first one:

What I didn't like was the father/son stuff. Honestly I didn't like the dogs.

I felt -- weirdly since I get so much shit for fucking with the continuity on X-Men 3, which not all of which was my doing but some of which is -- I feel like on the Hulk that was one which didn't need to be revamped. I didn't like that the Hulk was something his dad injected into him as opposed to him being a repressed guy with all this rage to unleash.

The other thing is that there's something about the tone of the TV show -- despite the fans' insistence on going with 'Hulk smash' and all that stuff -- there's something about the man on the run with a dark secret, Jekyll and Hyde, theme that we could do more with. There wasn't much of that in the Hulk movie. I can't think of one scene where he was trying to solve his problem while keeping it a secret from anyone. To me that's essential to the Hulk.
More than anything, it was the bad CGI that kept me from seeing The Hulk when it first came out, so hopefully they can figure out a way to do it Lou Ferrigno-style this time.

ITEM: Doom Patrol to come to the big screen. I'm only familiar with the latest iteration of the Doom Patrol appearing in Teen Titans, and the average moviegoer won't know them at all, so the smell of X-Men knockoff is going to be tough to overcome. While Akiva Goldsman has a marginally better track record as a producer (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Constantine) than a writer (Batman & Robin, Batman Forever), relatively speaking, Adam Turner doesn't have a track record at all, which could turn out to be a plus, all things considered.

ITEM: Deadman to come to the big screen. If Daredevil and Elektra are B-list properties, where exactly does Deadman land on the list? My guess is this will be a purely conceptual adaptation that will connect to the comic book character as loosely as possible, hopefully ditching the silly costume and going straight for the supernatural thriller angle. Be interesting to see what kind of budget it gets and whether they cast a big name, a la Ghost Rider, or go cheap and hope for a sleeper hit.

ITEM: The Ghost Rider movie's Web site is up and is rather light on content, but the trailer suggests the movie has two things that might potentially work in its favor: Eva Mendes and Donal Logue. Depending on how much screen time they have, and the final Johnny Blaze:Ghost Rider ratio, there's a chance it might actually be half-decent. SuperHeroHype has the lowdown on some footage that was shown in San Diego this week.

ITEM: It's official: the Silver Surfer will be appearing in next year's Fantastic Four sequel. I still haven't seen the first one, but some of the special effects looked pretty weak in the trailers I've seen, so unless they're increasing the budget, this doesn't sound like a good idea. Even worse would be Galactus, one of the more ridiculous concepts in comics that will have a hard time not seeming even more ridiculous on the big screen.

ITEM: Frank Miller is directing the adaptation of Will Eisner's The Spirit, and Rich Watson has some legitimate concerns about it regarding the character Ebony White:

Miller is a tremendous Eisner fan; that's a given. If he's going to direct this film, he's gonna want it to be as true to Eisner's vision as possible. But it should also be remembered that this is a man whose entire career in comics and film has been about shaking people up. Miller's in his element when he's tweaking the nose of convention, pushing the boundaries of propriety, tradition, and good taste. Being an agent provocateur is in his blood and he delights in creating images and dialogue that shock, titilate, anger, thrill, outrage, or confound readers... Simply put, the words "Frank Miller" and "politically correct" do not go together in any combination.

Given all of this, is it possible that the version of Ebony we will eventually see on the big screen will reflect the print version, or will the studio heads step in and demand something less offensive?

...He has to be aware of the fact that if he were to keep Ebony intact, he'd have Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and Bill Cosby up his ass in five seconds screaming for a boycott.
I've heard of Ebony White before, but my copy of The Spirit Archives, Vol. 1 has yet to be cracked open, so I'm not yet personally familiar with how offensive the character is or isn't, but Watson's a smart guy and his thinking here seems quite rational.

19 July 2006

18 July 2006

On The Shelves: 7/19/06

Read GOOD Comics, not just the ones you're used to! Try something new EVERY month.

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 7/19/06. 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]


The Hunger

Aya #2, $2.95
Jalila #2, $2.95
Rakan #2, $2.95
Zein #2, $2.95

The first issues of these weren't bad, but they weren't terribly good, either. Hopefully their intended audience found them worthy, though, because they're well-intentioned.

Strange Eggs Presents Boxing Bucket, $3.95

I was really disappointed with the first volume of Strange Eggs, a great premise kneecapped by not so great execution and a willful lack of editorial direction. Since it was considered sucessful enough to rate a sequel, though focusing on a different character (the titular "Boxing Bucket"), I'm guessing this will be more of the same.

Public Enemy #1, $3.99

The Zero Issue was pretty bad so I can't imagine anyone but the most hardcore PE fans picking this up. ie: The same ones who bought the Last Asiatic Disciples and Sister Souljah's albums back in the day.

Twerp And The Blue Baboon One Shot, $8.95

This is the kind of title that piques my interest and sends me to Google. Unfortunately, the lack of a decent web presence in this day and age is the kind of thing that kills my interest. Marketing 101, people.

Conan #30, $2.99

Old reliable continues to be one of the most consistently satisfying reads on the shelves.

Justice League Of America #0, $2.99
Robin #152, $2.99
Rush City #1 (Of 6), $2.99
Shadowpact #3, $2.99
Uncle Sam And The Freedom Fighters #1 (Of 8), $2.99

I have to admit that I'm curious about Brad Meltzer's take on DC's marquee team, as I actually enjoyed most of Identity Crisis. He does good atmosphere and character work -- whether it's in character or not is something for the continuity heads to debate -- but his plotting isn't a strong point, a flaw many of his best-selling mystery/thriller novelist peers seem to share. He's only getting two issues to convince me that Batman makes sense on this team outside of the SuperFriends before I move on, though. *** Apparently Adam Beechen said in an interview somewhere that his first story arc on Robin was editorially mandated -- the resolution of Cassandra Cain's story had to be told somewhere, I guess, and DC was probably hoping to boost Robin's numbers by roping in her small but rabidly loyal fanbase -- so all things considered, he's off to a good start. I'm looking forward to seeing how he handles the relationship with the new Captain Boomerang, son of the man who killed Tim Drake's father, and also what the deal is with this new hero he introduced last issue. *** Excepting OYL Nightwing, I'm always curious when DC drifts into real world settings, so Rush City will get a looksee just because it's set here in NYC. I'm pretty sure I've never read any of Chuck Dixon's work, so it will be a first. *** Two issues in and I feel like I've been buying Shadowpact for reasons other than actually enjoying it, which I have to a degree, but not quite enough to keep it on my pull list. Plus, I actually like Willingham's art, so that this is his last issue doesn't help. *** There was something about the Uncle Sam preview in Brave New World that stuck with me, and I've enjoyed Gray and Palmiotti's work on Daughters of the Dragon, so I think I'll give it a shot.

24 Seven GN, $24.99
Afterworks Vol 1 GN, $17.99
Casanova #2, $1.99

Image is really making a strong push into the realm of original graphic novels, yes? If only they weren't tied to their exclusive agreement with Diamond Books, maybe they'd actually get more of them into mainstream outlets and Iron West wouldn't still be unavailable on Amazon.com. I've rarely seen more than a couple of Image TPBs in Borders or Barnes & Noble, and it's usually Spawn or the Top Cow stuff when I have. *** Casanova #1 was a serious head rush that set the bar pretty high for itself, and I'll be curious to see if Fraction can work within the 16-page Fell format and still pull off a good story.

Brodies Law #7, $3.50
Dark Mists #4 (Of 4), $3.50
Done To Death #1, $3.50
Hunger Vol 1 TPB (resolicited), $18.95

While I enjoyed the self-published, first volume of Brodie's Law, there was a certain roughness to it that didn't quite feel ready-for-prime time. Slight characterization and loose plotting hampered it a bit, but its strong visuals and full-speed-ahead pacing make it a perfect Renny Harlin vehicle. Hopefully Osiyemi and Bircham have stepped their game up a notch with this second volume, because the premise has a lot of potential. *** Dark Mists, the APComics refugee, finally concludes, and while I'll have to dig up the previous three issues to remember what the hell was going on, it's been a pretty satisfying read so far with lovely, Joshua Middleton-esque art by Lee Garbett. *** Done to Death sounds like it will be fun, and writer Andrew Foley proved to have a great ear for dialogue with the underrated Parting Ways, so I'm looking forward to this one. *** Markosia's motto could be, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." as they've become home to several titles and/or creators who were left in the lurch by other publishers who bit off more than they could chew (the aformentioned APComics, Speakeasy). Hopefully they're in the game for the long haul as they have some intriguing work in the pipeline. I slept on The Hunger the first time around, but thoroughly enjoyed the first two issues writer Jose L. Torres slipped me at NY Comic Con earlier this year and am looking forward to reading the complete first arc. Told from the perspective of a newly converted zombie, Charles Lee -- whose zombification is similar to Bruce Banner's little problem with his green alter ego -- Torres and Chris DiBari have crafted an intriguing premise where zombies live underground in a corrupt (pre-Katrina) New Orleans and Charles is caught in the middle of a high-profile murder case. Plus, you know, he's a zombie, coming to grips with his new reality while trying to get back home to his parents who think he's dead. Good stuff, highly recommended.

Civil War #3 (Of 7), $2.99
Civil War X-Men #1 (Of 4), $2.99
Daily Bugle Civil War Newspaper Special CW, AR
Daughters Of The Dragon #6 (Of 6), $2.99
Marvel Westerns Western Legends, $3.99
Planet Hulk Gladiator Guidebook, $3.99
X-Factor #9 CW, $2.99

Heavy week from the House of Ideas as I've been roped into following (to varying degrees) three of their big events: Civil War, "Planet Hulk", and "Marvel Westerns". I'm cherry-picking CW and am all-in for the other two. Plus, the fun as hell guilty pleasure, Daughters of the Dragon, concludes.

Atomika Vol 1 TPB, $19.99

I'm not a big fan of splitting collections of 12-issue maxi-series into two volumes unless there's a clear separation between the two halves, but it makes sense with something like Atomika, which I think will read much better in two large doses than spread out over single issues and many, many months.

Sadhu #1, $2.99

I'm firmly on the fence with Virgin, at this point drawn to their comics mostly by who is publishing them than what they're actually publishing. Devi and Snakewoman had solid, if unremarkable, debuts, and I'm pretty sure I'd have already moved on if not out of curiousity for whether or not Branson and Chopra can pull off their ambitious experiment.

Gumby #1, $3.99

It's Gumby, dammit! If this looks even half-decent, I'll pick it up because Gumby hits that same nostalgic sweet spot as the Smurfs and G.I. Joe.

Back Issue #17, $6.95
Write Now #13, $6.95

Speaking of nostalgia: "It's ladies' night in BACK ISSUE #17 as the Super Girls of the '70s and '80s take center stage!" Back Issue is my favorite comics fanzine, hands down. *** Danny Fingeroth always pulls together an interesting assortment of interviews in every issue of Write Now, and Dennis O'Neil talking about writing the novelization of Batman Begins (which I've yet to read, but want to) and Kurt Busiek talking about breaking into comics, this should be another good issue.

17 July 2006

Review: Iron West

Iron West
By Doug TenNapel (Image Comics, 2006; $14.99)

Going for wacky is a dangerous gambit, particularly in comics where it can easily drift over into unintentional camp or, even worse, come completely unhinged and end up convoluted and unfunny, so when I realized Doug TenNapel's Iron West included both Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster in the mix, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Fortunately, TenNapel walks a net-free tightrope like a pro, delivering a rollicking good time filled with moments of "He's going to fa--Wow!" that begs for adaptation to the big, or small, screen. Iron West's protagonist is one Preston Struck, a selfish outlaw who finds himself presented with a chance to be a hero and runs from it; several times, in fact. Fate has other plans for him, though, and as likeable scoundrels go, he's got the kind of goofy charisma that makes you believe that, underneath the bluster, there's a good, decent man.

Iron West's plot is an outlandish one featuring killer robots accidentally awakened by greedy prospectors in 1898 California, a mysterious shaman cryptically named Two Rivers, the aforementioned Sasquatch and Loch Ness Monster, the proverbial gruff sherrif and a whore with a heart of gold, and several more engaging characters, human and otherwise -- all of whom come together in a wild ride of a story that left me satisfied, but wanting more. TenNapel's black-and-white artwork is clean and distinctive and, while his pacing is full-steam ahead, his layouts are clear and flow smoothly. I wasn't aware of it until afterwards, but he's also an animator, known for his Nickelodeon show, Catscratch -- as well as the creator of the video game, Earthworm Jim -- so his storytelling skills make sense.

Iron West is the latest positive example of the new Image Comics: off beat, entertaining, quality work by creators with distinctive voices and original stories to tell. Coupled with the likes of the excellent Stagger Lee (review coming soon) and, by many accounts, the first two volumes of Flight, Five Fists of Science, Cobbler's Monster and 24/seven among others (none of which I've personally read yet), Image is proving to have as good an eye for original graphic novels as any of the mainstream publishers who are now jumping into that pool, often simply reprinting material smaller publishers took a chance on first. The sooner Image completes its extreme makeover from being a premiere purveyor of lame spandex imitators and full-of-potential but ridiculously late serials, to the home of a diverse range of original graphic novels and trade collections of high-quality but under-read serials, the better.

LINK: Raising the Bar for Comics Journalism

Heidi MacDonald -- of the recently relocated The Beat, and defender of all that is righteous in the comics world -- proves that, with great power comes great responsibility, using the high-profile visibility of her new Publisher's Weekly platform to...well, to dish dirt.

Dept. of Scandal I
A while ago we told you about budding filmmaker Matt Busch reporting on his LiveJournal about a nasty breakup with his girlfriend, actress Sarah Wilkinson, with writer Steve Niles as the third party. We're not going to rehash all the story because it's just ugly stuff that should have been kept private, but in the interests of fairness, the other shoe has dropped, and Wilkinson tells her story.
Guess she hasn't known any of the parties involved since they were 15 years old?

Weak. Sauce.

16 July 2006

CBC Quickees: On Pirates and Expatriates

The Left Bank Gang
By Jason (Fantagraphics, 2006; $12.95)

Why Are You Doing This?, an enthralling Hitchkockian mystery with a big heart, was my first exposure to the Norwegian cartoonist Jason, and it firmly put him on my list of creators from whom I'll check out anything they do. Unfortunately, for me, his English translations are published by Fantagraphics and I rarely find myself in their corner of the comics shop, so I hadn't gotten around to checking out any of his other work before The Left Bank Gang came out a couple of weeks ago. Originally published in France as Hemingway, its premise -- positing Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and James Joyce as struggling cartoonists in 1920s Paris -- is an intriguing one, and for the first half of his rather slim but not slight story (46 pages), Jason humorously plays up the writer/cartoonist angle while clearly establishing each of his lead characters and their relationships to one another, before setting his real story in motion, a Rashomon-style tale of double and triple-crossing as the quartet come up with a plan to solve their respective financial and, in some cases, marital woes, real and imagined.

As in Why Are You Doing This?, Jason's anthropomorphic characters and clean, European style make for an odd but effective complement to his cynical yet hopeful story, giving the whole affair a much more human feel than the more straightforward noir approach other less self-assured creators might have taken. Jason fans will be pleased, and newcomers will be intrigued by the discovery of an immensely talented creator with a solid backlist to explore further. Grade: B+

East Coast Rising, Vol. 1
By Becky Cloonan (TokyoPop, 2006; $9.99)

Smart comics retailers should have had copies of East Coast Rising prominently on display next to their cash registers the past couple of weeks, taking full advantage of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest's pervasive marketing onslaught -- McDonald's inflatable swords with every Happy Meal, despite the fact that the movie is far from kid-friendly, was genius! They could recommend it as a similarly manic, contemporary spin on pirates, featuring a colorful cast of characters, sea monsters, a flooded East Coast and, of course, a hidden treasure. Becky Cloonan puts a lot of energy into this first-of-three-volumes story, introducing her large cast of slacker/hipster characters, establishing some of their intertwined relationships while hinting at others, and setting up what appears to be more than just another treasure hunt. Not unlike Pirates of the Caribbean. East Coast Rising isn't a PotC clone, though, as Cloonan has her own story to tell and it's a fun one that stands on its own merits.

Disappointingly, her artwork doesn't hold up its end of the deal as the decision to 'color' water black instead of shades of grey too-often makes page after waterlogged, manga-style page indecipherable, especially during the many chaotic scenes of battle between ships, people and sea creatures, all blending into each other, and, worse, the water itself. Judging by the more legible sketches in the book's bonus section -- "The World of East Coast Rising" -- as well as memories of her exceptional, and varied, work on DEMO, this is presumably Vasilis Lolos' fault, who's credited with "tones". Issues with the art aside, it's an entertaining read that actually gets better on the second pass, and if its "tone" improves in subsequent volumes, I'll be picking them up. Grade: B-

COMMENT: Superman Returns, Disappoints, May Disappear Again and Take His Friends With Him

The initial weekend estimates are in and, like Lex Luthor with Kryponite, it's bad news for the Man of Steel as Superman Returns pulled in a mere $11.6 million in its third week, bringing its total domestic box office to $163,648,000 and pretty much guaranteeing that it will fall short of the $200m mark that's been rumored as the minimum benchmark to greenlight a sequel. (Or, at least, one with Brian Singer at the helm.) While its 46.7% dropoff wasn't nearly as bad as last weekend's 58.5%, its miserable $3,086/theater average when there was no new direct competition would seem to suggest that lukewarm word of mouth countered its mostly positive reviews and strong, if not overwhelming, opening week at the box office.

Domestically, it's now dead in the water as four major new releases will take over the theaters this coming weekend -- Clerks II, Lady in the Water, Monster House and My Super Ex-Girlfriend -- and Pirates of the Caribbean could drop 70% next weekend and would still easily land in the Top 5. With Devil Wears Prada having a better per-theather average this weekend, it's not impossible to think that Superman Returns could actually fall completely out of the Top 10. The foreign box office numbers for this weekend will be of particular importance then, as it finally opened in several European and Latin American markets, delayed thanks to the World Cup. If it underperforms as some have expected it will, the chances of a sequel become that much more unlikely.

The fates of other DC characters' movie prospects undoubtedly hang in the balance, too, as studio bean counters have to figure out what they can possibly expect from the likes of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash -- all of whom would require $125m+ budgets to have a shot at not looking ridiculous on the big screen -- in light of Superman's disappointing performance. If nothing else, tighter budgets will certainly be the rule of thumb, and casting decisions will be made with an eye towards hedging bets, opting for celebrities with demonstrated box office cred, meaning unless Joss Whedon can snag Mel Gibson to play Steve Trevor at a discount, he will likely have to look past his Serenity posse and the rumor du jour, Priyanka Chopra, for Wonder Woman.

Are you ready for Jessica Simpson and her invisible jet? If her latest album doesn't bomb, it's certainly a possibility.

14 July 2006

PANEL: Iron West

Iron West
By Doug TenNapel
July 2006, Image Comics

13 July 2006

COMMENT: Under the Covers

Pop quiz: What's the difference between these three magazine covers?

Jessica Simpson Collage
If you said "everything", you get a no-prize! I purposefully made the images small so the copy would be hard to read and you'd first have to focus on the pictures.

On the Teen People cover, Ms. Simpson (good thing she kept her maiden name, yes?) has a big smile on her face, with "Sister Power" clearly visible, suggesting the story inside is a positive one, probably a fluff celebrity piece. The Maxim cover knows its target audience, commanding their attention to Ms. Simpson's two best features and printing her name large enough for their slightly more discerning readers who like to have their cleavage identified. You can be pretty sure that the accompanying story isn't about her charitable work with Operation Smile. Finally, there's the In Touch cover with a clearly displeased Ms. Simpson giving her seemingly clueless husband the evil eye and "IT'S OVER! printed large and loud so that there's no question what that story is about.

Assuming all three of these magazines were on the stands at the same time, they would appeal to three very different, though perhaps overlapping, audiences. (Excepting Jessica Simpson fanatics who collect every media appearance of hers they can find). Teen People targets "today's multi-cultural teens", primarily female; Maxim targets horny guys of all ages; and In Touch targets women, 18-34, who think People is too expensive.

Now, you're probably asking yourself, "What does Jessica Simpson have to do with comics?"

Nothing, actually -- though maybe Rosario Dawson's O.C.T. will inspire her to develop her own comic book properties for future movie deals -- but this isn't about her, it's about comic book covers and something Marvel editor Tom Breevort wrote yesterday about the decreased importance of covers in the comic book industry today.

It used to be, back when comic books were sold exclusively on the newsstand, that the cover was what sold the magazine. That's why so much attention and effort was spent on the cover image. There was no advertising, no promotion, no Wizard magazine or Previews catalogue or Newsarama [nice plug] to let people know what was coming out months in advance...

Sure, a really good cover may be able to hook a few extra people into picking up the book off the racks, assuming it's there for them to find, but the whole mechanism of our distribution and retail system makes the cover close to superfluous. Retailers order their books months in advance from the Previews catalogue, as do a great deal of the customer base through pull lists. And once you get outside the big coastal cities especially, the amount of display space a given shop has is relatively miniscule. I don't know what proportion of the average shop's books are sold off the rack as opposed to through pull list subscriptions and advance orders, but I'd hazard a conservative guess that it's probably half.
While Breevort's overall point is right -- for the most part, from the myopic perspective of the direct market as it is -- I think he makes an interesting miscalculation in his assessment of shelf copies as "probably half" of the average shop's total sales. Think about that for a second.

X-Factor #7In May, the modestly promoted X-Factor #7 sold an estimated 44,315 in pre-orders, featuring a pretty good Ryan Sook cover that was dynamic and relevant to the story, but lacked even the slightest bit of promotional text to clue in readers unfamiliar with the series or Jamie Madrox. (That was roughly a 21% drop from the first issue's debut of 56,053 copies pre-ordered, which sold out and was reprinted, featuring a new cover and moving another 8,808 copies.) Using Breevort's line of thinking, half of those copies -- 22,157 -- were ordered for the shelves at comic book shops across the country in the hopes that it might catch a new reader's eye, inspiring them to check it out and, eventually, add it to their pull list.

How many of those copies do you think hit the back issue bins because they weren't strong enough to attract the casual browser's eye? How many of those unsold copies influenced retailers to decrease their orders for X-Factor #10 when it came time to gauge how many shelf copies to stock this time? How does this vicious cycle lead to mid-list titles being cancelled and Crisis on House of M being seen as what fans want? Discuss...

While I think Breevort is wildly overestimating the 1:1 pull:shelf ratio -- my guess is it's closer to 10:1 for the best-sellers, 25:1 for the mid-list titles, and an exception for most indies -- the fact that he seemingly believes it and still underestimates the importance of a cover's influence is astounding, especially when the direct market is notorious for declining month-to-month sales as a rule. It's a symptom of the larger ills of the direct market's non-returnable distribution system, one which encourages maintaining the status quo over strategic growth by rewarding conservatism over calculated risk-taking.

In the traditional publishing world of returnable inventory, retailers always order more copies of a magazine (or book) than they think they will sell (they're not shouldering the risk and they know they'll lose that sale, and possibly future sales, to a competitor), and most publishers are comfortable with the returns, figuring on an average sell-through of 60-75% which ensures there's always a copy of their publication on the stands for someone new to come across and purchase, even if it's towards the end of that issue's fresh date.

You think People magazine wants to sell out of that issue featuring the first photos of TomKat's [non-existent?] baby? Hell no! They want everyone who passes by a newstand to see that issue and buy it, and they factor the returns into their budget. (Budgeting, like marketing, doesn't seem to be one of the comics industry's strong suits.)

It's the same concept as independent creators who are (understandably, to a degree) reluctant to commit to original graphic novels over serialization because of the lost mindshare that comes with being absent from the shelves (or from Previews) for several months at a time. Marvel (and DC) have addressed this somewhat with their willingness to reprint sold-out issues, but it's a half-step measure based in conservatism and, if we wanted to be a little cynical, a lack of faith in their product. Which, of course, in many cases, is understandable.

12 July 2006

COMMENT: Superman Returns Sequel Hinges on $200m

For those who thought I was off the mark with my speculation over Superman Returns' not broaching $200 million domestically, rumor has it that the suits at Warner Brothers are worried it won't make that much and have made it the line in the sand on whether or not a sequel gets made:

After a $225 million "Pirates of the Caribbean" sailed into port, taking the wind out of "Superman Returns'" $205 million Spandex, Warner Bros. executives are said to be circumspect as to whether the Man of Steel will fly again.

Talent agency insiders with ties to the film tell TMZ that Warner Bros. Pictures president and COO Alan Horn has informed agents that a sequel hinges on whether grosses of "Superman Returns" can crest the $200 million mark domestically. What's more, the studio plans to shave millions - many millions - off any "Superman" sequel's budget. (Amusingly, in the current "Superman Returns," Lois Lane pleads with Lex Luthor, "But millions will die! " It turns out she was right on the money.)

...Despite opening at No. 1 in all its territories, overseas, the Man of Steel is starting to look just a bit rusty. The just-ended World Cup meant that Warner Bros. took a pass on European and Latin American territories, and its second weekend in release overseas, "Superman Returns" dipped 55% to take in $9 million from 1,800 prints in 14 markets.
Rusty, indeed, as $200m seems even less likely after a disappointing Monday saw Pirates pull in another $18m while Superman only managed to scrape up $2.6m, barely beating The Devil Wears Prada which is running in nearly 1/3rd fewer theaters, and leaving it $55m short of the newly shifted goal post.

If it's not at least at $175m after this coming weekend -- $31m between yesterday and Sunday -- then it's dead in the water because the following weekend it's going to get pushed out of at least half the 4000+ theaters it opened in and then disappear completely by the middle of August. Considering it's only pulled in $40m since the extended Fourth of July weekend, half of which came over its second weekend when it experienced a 58% drop, the odds don't look very good for the Man of Steel.

Warner Bros. is going to have to invest heavily in a big promotional push this week to have any chance of saving face. Coincidentally, I saw a new [to me] trailer last night that focused on Superman doing super things with a tagline of "Imagine... flying higher... going faster... being stronger... than you ever believed."

Now that's a friggin' tagline on par with "You'll Believe a Man Can Fly!"

If they'd led off with this particular trailer and based an entire campaign around that tagline, they'd have had a much better opening weekend and now be worrying about hitting $250m and casting the sequel instead of crossing their fingers over $200m and having accountants determine its fate, rarely a good thing when it comes to creative endeavors.

PS: Charles LePage (of ComicList fame) posted a link to a scathing Pauline Kael review of Superman: The Movie over at Comics Worth Reading and some of her criticisms seem to have ironically been repeated in the less-glowing reviews of Superman Returns.

11 July 2006

On the Shelves: 7/12/06

Support GOOD Comics! Try something new EVERY month.

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 7/12/06. 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]


Left Bank Gang

Mouse Guard 3rd Prtg #1 (Of 6), $3.50

I love how much attention this comic has received, a genuine sleeper hit that's unfortunately also caught the attention of speculators. Kudos to Archaia for continuing to meet demand with reprints.

Star Wars Legacy #2, $2.99

I'm still not sure if I actually liked the first issue, or just wanted to, but it piqued my interest enough for me to want to check out the second issue. Doesn't help that I finally popped Knights of the Old Republic into my Xbox last week and was totally hooked. Last thing I need is another obsession.

Firestorm The Nuclear Man #27, $2.99
Green Lantern Corps #2, $2.99

Well, here's two comics that, if you'd told me six months ago would be the only two I'd be picking up from DC in any given week, I'd have laughed at you. Heartily and derisively. But I have to admit that Firestorm is doing a solid job with the fun superheroics and GLC #1 was a pleasant surprise.

GI Joe Americas Elite Caselli Cvr A #13, $2.95

Cobra Commander Returns...and he's in the White House! What what?!? If Joe Casey plays his cards right, he may be a guest on the O'Reilly Factor soon.

Left Bank Gang GN, $12.95

Last week I wrote this whole missive about brands and Jason and not knowing Left Bank Gang was coming out next month...and then I walk into Midtown Comics the next day and there it was on the shelves! Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but Why Are You Doing This? made me a fan, so I'm looking forward to it.

Cobblers Monster GN, $14.99
Hawaiian Dick The Last Resort #4 (Of 4)(resolicited), $2.99
Strange Girl #9, $2.99

The Cobbler's Monster, the Beckett gang's latest intriguing mash-up, a combination of Frankenstein and Pinnocchio, finally hits the shelves and should be a good read. *** Back when I used to frequent the Image message boards more often, their former PR guy (and Hawaiian Dick creator/writer) B. Clay Moore had a tendency to come off as the grumpy old man who'd seen it all and hated most of it, so I thought it was pretty funny to see him say in a recent interview that the one thing he learned "from dealing with comic retailers [was] to 'get the whole thing done before you solicit.'" Well, duh! Is that really a lesson anyone in comics for more than a week doesn't quickly realize? And which of Image's many ridiculously delayed projects, including several of his own, finally taught him that lesson? *** Are you reading Strange Girl? You should be, because it's one of the best series Image publishes and one of the very few I don't wait for the trade on, even when it doesn't ship on time.

Thunderbolts #104 Cw, $2.99

Et tu, Marvel? A light week from the Big Two for me generally means I do a bit more sampling which is a dangerous thing for some of their marginal titles that are already on the chopping block. Thunderbolts, however, is not one of those titles, currently neck-and-neck with X-Factor for my favorite team book from either publisher. Last issue, Fabian Nicieza managed to make Civil War much more interesting than Mark Millar has in his first two issues. Maybe if any of the main Spider-Man titles were any good, the big reveal would have had more impact for me.

Night Driver Teaser Edition, $0.99

The solicit for this piqued my interest so I'll definitely be picking up the cheapo preview. Smart move, Moonstone.

Emily Edison GN, $12.95
Oddly Normal Vol 1 TPB, $11.95

Viper puts out some quality product, even when it's not necessarily to my taste, and I enjoyed David Hopkins' twisted Karma Incorporated mini-series from last year, so I'll be checking out his latest effort, Emily Edison. *** Oddly Normal, on the other hand, didn't really click with me the first time around when I read the preview in the back of another of their titles, but I'll give it a flip-through to see how it feels as a full story.

Snakewoman #1, $2.99

After their free preview issue two weeks ago, and last week's premiere issue of Devi, Virgin seems like they could be the new Image (or CrossGen?), with talented creators working on not-so-original concepts, the big difference being that they're pulling from, and aiming for, a culture for whom Spider-Man and Superman are not the end-all, be-all when it comes to comics. With Snakewoman (the first title from their "Director's Cut" line), they debut their first American creative team, with Zeb Wells and Michael Gaydos working from movie director Shekhar Kapur's concept based (very loosely, I presume) on "India's ancient Snake (Naga) legends, in which the soul of the serpent reptile is reborn in the form of a sexy and unsuspecting heroine." Pretty convenient that the legends specified "sexy", no?

Say What?: Battle of the Sex(ists)es

"My career really didn't begin until I started working on books that I helped create. Vertigo is probably the only publisher today that wouldn't have laughed me out of their offices for pitching them a fully painted hardcover novel for 'mature readers' about the Iraq war... starring talking lions."
--Brian K. Vaughan, Graphic Attack: Vertigo Raises the Bar (Again) (via Blog@Newsarama)

"I always get the impression these articles assume that the baseline for comics is violent, costumed soap opera and these bizarre aberrations exist to fool the rib so we boys can continue to high-five each other and grunt approval to the latest peregrinations of Form-Fitting Bodysuit Man."
--Tom Spurgeon, Feature Articles I Hate, Episode Nine

"DC as much as I like you...its [sic] one thing to beat a dead horse but what your [sic] doing is called necrophilia.........so stand away from the horse!"

"What is most likely is that she will be 'punished' in some way by being permanently separated from her child -- for having the 'nerve' to be a 'madonna' when she's really a 'whore.' Similarly, what is most likely is that Holly will eventually end up mutilated & killed in some pseudo-sexual (or plainly sexual) way, leaving Selina to become consumed by guilt and feel doubly cursed as a maternal figure."
--Valerie D'Orazio, I Don't Believe Catwoman Can Remain Happy

"The moral of the story is that comic book women don't have to be individuals. They don't need to have personality or characterisation reflected in consistent design. They just have to be HAWT. Greg, shape up or ship out. If you're a good artist, then do better. If you're a bad artist, get another fucking job."
--Karen Healey, His Stylus is Just So BIG.

09 July 2006

COMMENT: 'Twas Marketing Killed the Son of Krypton

"Son, I'm Captain Jack Sparrow. Savvy?"

While Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest finishing first at the box office this weekend was a no-brainer, I doubt even the most optimistic pundit predicted an eye-popping, record-breaking haul of $132 million in its first three days.

$132 million: aka Biggest. Opening. EVER!

Savvy, indeed!

Boxofficemojo's ALL TIME BOX OFFICE: OPENING WEEKENDS chart puts that number in perspective:

1) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest -- $132,028,000
2) Spider-Man -- $114,844,116 ($403,706,375; 28.4%)
3) Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith -- $108,435,841 ($380,270,577; 28.5%)
4) Shrek 2 -- $108,037,878 ($441,226,247; 24.5%)
5) X-Men: The Last Stand -- $102,750,665 ($231,288,000; 44.4%)
Considering the first Pirates opened with a relatively paltry $46,630,690 on its way to a $305m domestic haul (plus an amazing $348m overseas), the sequel should be a shoo-in for breaking the $300m mark again, with a decent shot at pulling a Shrek 2, outperforming its predecessor and reaching the rarified air of a $400m+ box office upon initial release. (Star Wars and E.T. took multiple releases to surpass that mark.)

But what of the Man of Steel and his reported $21,850,000 booty, a harsh 58% drop from his opening weekend (Friday-Sunday only) for a stinging $5,375/theater average that pretty much guarantees a significant drop in theaters as Pirates and "sleeper" hit, The Devil Wears Prada (a 43% drop in its second weekend, while matching Superman's average in nearly a third fewer theaters) will still be drawing significant audiences next weekend. Plus, there's four new major releases opening the weekend after next.

With $141,677,000 over its first 12 days, while Superman Returns is definitely no Spider-Man and can hardly be considered a franchise-killer on par with Batman and Robin, will it at least be considered a success on the level of Batman Begins, or is it more of an underwhelming disappointment that calls for a return to the drawing board, like The Hulk?

The most important box office numbers for a movie come in its first 10-12 days of wide release, where opening weekends and second weekend drops generally reveal everything you need to know about the effectiveness of its marketing campaign(s), and the effect of critical reviews and word of mouth. Superman Returns had the benefit of multiple (if arguably ill-conceived) marketing promotions and mostly positive reviews (tracking at 75% on RottenTomatoes) -- and, of course, its lead character's iconic status, on par with Spider-Man, Batman and the Hulk -- so a strong opening weekend was to be expected. Further, the five-day holiday weekend combined with a Wednesday opening (and a Tuesday night preview for the hardcore fans) padding its initial take was also to be expected.

Superman Returns' 58% drop this weekend puts it smack in-between Batman Begins' better-than-average 43% drop and The Hulk's devastating 69.7% drop in their respective second weekends. (Both opened in late-June, two weeks before the Fourh of July weekend Superman took full advantage of.) The Hulk, which actually had the biggest opening weekend of the three movies ($62,128,420), overcame mixed reviews and similarly ill-conceived marketing at first, but was absolutely killed by negative word of mouth and ended up grossing only $132,177,234, leading to the decision that the sequel would be a Batman Begins-style restartredo"remake" instead of an actual sequel.

Superman Returns has already surpassed The Hulk's total box office, though, and is currently $19m ahead of where Batman Begins was on its 12th day in release, but with the holiday weekend already having inflated its numbers, this weekend's harsh dropoff in the face of two strong competitors, and even more competition coming in two weeks with four major releases -- not to mention its record $260 million budget -- all indications are that its word of mouth hasn't been very good and that it will very likely not have strong legs.

For all the misdirected attention the alleged gay undertones in Superman Returns may have received in the mainstream press, that was a mere sidenote to what really hobbled the film's chances for mega-success: questionable casting decisions and a lack of focus in its early marketing and PR efforts.

Regardless of what those who've seen Superman Returns think about Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth's actual performances, they were convicted in the court of public opinion as being too young and lacking credibility for their respective roles before the first official review was filed. That's a difficult perception to overcome, and it didn't help that the initial marketing efforts for the movie were either too vague, leaning on Superman's iconic status (which many felt Routh was ill-equipped to personify) while ignoring the fact that for many, he represents an old-fashioned, Pollyanna-ish perspective on life; or, it was too focused on the romantic angle of the story, a deathwish for both superhero movies and summer action blockbusters.

Bryan Singer himself doomed the movie to negative pre-conceptions by calling it his "first chick flick", a phrase he'd repeat in numerous interviews, with and without qualification, leading up to its release.

"[Superman Returns is] about what happens when old boyfriends come back into your life. Even if you're the strongest man in the world," said Singer, "if the woman you love has found someone else that she's nearly married to that's not a bad guy, how do you figure out what your place is in that woman's life? I call it my first 'chick flick'."
I don't care if you're Steven Spielberg or Keanu Reeves, you can't promote your summer blockbuster action movie as a "chick flick" and expect it to match up with the expectations of a summer blockbuster action movie.

Almost every superhero movie ever made, successful or not, has been criticized for its handling of "the love interest." At its best, the character and her connection to the hero is weaved seamlessly into the main story and is a known entity from the source material, a la Lois Lane and Mary Jane Watson. While Singer uses Superman 2 as his springboard -- wherein Superman gives up his powers to be with Lois Lane and they attempt, unsuccessfully, to live happily ever after, before he regains his powers to lay the smackdown on the bad guys and save the day in dramatic fashion -- he apparently forgot that the movie was balanced by its three kick-ass villains who were actually on Superman's level and posed a legitimate threat to him and the rest of the world. Lex Luthor, a stash of kryptonite and yet another over-the-top real estate scheme? Not so much; not even with Kevin Spacey in the role.

Even the first Superman had a clearly focused campaign built around the tagline "You'll Believe A Man Can Fly!".

Pop Quiz: Superman Returns' tagline is...

None come to mind, and the only one I've seen in a quick Google search that could be considered close to one is on its MySpace page: "The Holiday Begins When He Returns"

Um, suck much?

About a week before the movie opened, Warner Brothers finally released a trailer that focused on the action (and a bit of the plot) in its summer blockbuster action movie, but by then, most people's opinions of it were set and 120 seconds of planes falling from the sky and a bullet bouncing off of Superman's eyeball weren't enough to offset the first impression of its axis of failure: Routh/Bosworth/"my first 'chick flick'".

I have to wonder if it wouldn't have helped to put the kid in one of those early trailers, with some hint of his identity -- the only real twist Singer's apparently brought to the table -- and whether or not even now, Warner Brothers is debating if it might help give it some buzz going into its do-or-die third weekend. Certainly couldn't hurt.

From the numbers so far, it appears that Superman Returns was able to capitalize on its wide release over a long holiday weekend, pulling in the audience that was inclined to see it anyway -- either fans of the character, Singer and/or Spacey, or those who can be counted on to catch every summer blockbuster on opening weekend -- while unable to generate the kind of buzz and word of mouth that expands that audience and captures repeated viewings.

I predicted last week that Superman Returns wouldn't break the $200 million mark -- coming up short at $198m, with a similarly disappointing result overseas -- and I'm standing by that. Warner Brothers, of course, is still optimistically predicting it will pass the $200m mark, but based on its second weekend drop and the upcoming buzzworthy releases, I wouldn't be surprised if the final result isn't just below Men in Black II's $190,418,803, another sequel that opened on a Wednesday before the Fourth of July weekend with almost identical numbers and a 53% drop in its second weekend, before quickly fading away by summer's end.

While it's highly unlikely that 2009's Untitled Superman Returns Sequel will go the extreme route of the aforementioned The Incredible Hulk, I wouldn't be surprised to see some Batman Returns-style stunt casting, and either the replacement of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane with someone better able to pull off the role of a thirty-something single mother who's also an award-winning journalist, or the introduction of Lana Lang to provide some spark to the "Man" aspect of "Superman". For the latter, Singer should do everything he can to convince Natalie Portman to take on the role and then make sure his writers give her a character worthy of her talents.

PANEL: The Incredible Hulk #96

The Incredible Hulk #96
Art by Aaron Lopresti, Danny Miki, Chris Sotomayor
Written by Greg Pak
July 2006, Marvel

07 July 2006

CBC Quickees: Death, Villains and more...

Just as I decide to drastically cut back my pull list, a slew of great new comics are seemingly coming out every other week now, including a couple of unexpected treats from DC thanks to Brave New World. At this rate, I may have to stop drinking just to keep up!

Let's do this...

Death Comes to Dillinger #1 (Silent Devil, $2.99)
Death Comes to Dillinger came out of left field, completely off my radar until its eye-catching cover, um, caught my eye, and it passed the flip test and got to come home with me a few weeks back. In comics as in film, I'm a big fan of atmosphere, and if you can quickly set the right tone, I'll go along for the ride. Se7enhedd and Jim Ringuet deliver atmosphere in spades here and James Patrick matches them stride for stride with an intriguing tale of Death, literally, coming to the old west town of Dillinger, and one man's desperate response to his presence. There's a matter-of-fact, Twilight Zone-ish feel to the proceedings, and the pacing is a pitch perfect example of decompression done right. (After reading it, I wasn't surprised to see Joshua Hale Fialkov's name in the masthead as Editor, considering the great job he did with the gone-but-not-forgotten Western Tales of Terror anthology series.)

That it's only a two-issue "mini-series" is both a good and bad thing, as the first half works quite well on its own and two issues is exactly the right length for the full tale, but from a sales perspective I have to wonder if it would have made more sense to release it as a giant-sized one-shot. Either way, it's highly recommended reading.

Villains #1-2 (Viper Comics, $3.25)
"Apt Pupil" was arguably the best of the four short stories in Stephen King's Different Seasons, the story of a teenaged boy obsessed with Nazis who recognizes a war criminal in hiding and blackmails him into telling all about the atrocities he committed. (Bryan Singer's adaptation, his first time working with Ian McKellan, was one of the better Stephen King movies.) Adam Cogan treads similar ground in Villains as his protagonist, Nick Corrigan, newly fired from his job and dreading telling his live-in girlfriend the truth, stumbles upon his building's superintendent's secret: he's really Charles Randall Cobb, the presumed-dead supervillain the Hardliner, sort of Iron Man gone to the dark side. Nick hears opportunity knocking and blackmails Cobb into training him to become his replacement, and in the second issue pulls his first job, somewhat sloppily, causing the tension to mount between them. There's also a subplot involving Cobb and the resident superhero, Flying Ace, that hints at a dark side for the good guys, too, giving the whole story a tantalizing undercurrent of moral ambiguity. Cogan -- who also co-writes the equally good mini-series, The Black Coat -- sets a nice pace in these first two issues, focusing on developing his two leads into believeable, almost sympathetic, characters while setting up his plot in the background. Artist (and co-creator) Ryan Cody is cut from similar cloth as Powers' Michael Avon Oeming, and brings a similarly distinctive flair to the proceedings, and colorist Russ Lowery complements him nicely.

Each issue includes a back-up story, "Old Scores", featuring Cobb in his prime as the Hardliner, adding an extra layer to the main story by giving a sense history to this brand new universe. Cogan scripts this story, too, but artist Charles Clark's work isn't nearly as strong as Cody's so it isn't quite as seamless as it could be. Nevertheless, kudos to the creative team and to Viper for putting some actual content in those "extra" pages instead of the usual house ads most other publishers typically go with. Villains is slated as a four-issue mini-series, but there's a lot of potential here for future installments as Cogan and Cody are building a compelling setting in which there could be many more stories to be told.

Jim Valentino's Emissary #1 (Image, $3.50)
I wish I'd reviewed this sooner, before I found out the next two issues are already delayed and that there's a new writer taking over with the 4th issue, because I can't help but let that influence my opinion somewhat negatively, especially when my initial take on it wasn't all that positive to begin with. It's an intriguing premise -- an unidentified black man appears in the middle of New York City, walking on air and declaring himself "The Emissary...and I have come to lead you into the future." -- and Valentino has said he plans to explore how the real world would react to a black Superman, effectively, but right out of the gate he and writer Jason Rand miss the boat by not having one of their seven primary POV characters be black, too. This first issue is all set-up as each of the characters (two cops, a reporter and an editor, and an Air Force General, Captain and fighter pilot) is introduced through overly expository dialogue -- and, in one case, only-in-Hollywood-coincidence -- as The Emissary makes his presence known and is greeted by a couple of F-15s dispatched by the requisite gruff General, who is especially skittish post-9/11 and wants him shot out of the sky.

There's definitely some potential here as Rand hints at what will presumably be the underlying theme of the story via reactions from a couple of witnesses -- "Jesus..." and "God Almighty..." -- but given Valentino's recent track record, with constantly shifting creative teams and directions on the current ShadowHawk series; the quick cancellation of Intimidators (which had two artists over its first, and only, four issues); the predictably less-than-stellar sales of Emissary #1; and the fact that Rand is already being replaced three issues in, its chances for reaching that potential don't look too bright. The writing on the wall says "wait for the trade" on this one, but I wouldn't recommend holding your breath for its release.


Brave New World (DC, $1)
Unlike Countdown, this is a straight-forward preview book, featuring sneak peeks of six new titles spinning out of Infinite Crisis: The All-New Atom (ongoing), The Creeper (6-issue mini-series), OMAC (8-issue mini-series), Martian Manhunter (8-issue mini-series), Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters (8-issue mini-series) and Trials of Shazam (12-issue mini-series). Suprisingly, to me, The All-New Atom was actually one of the best entries, despite John Byrne on art and Gail Simone, who's yet to click for me, writing from "ideas and concepts developed by Grant Morrison". Fun and unpredictable, it left me wanting more. The costume, though, is one of the worst I've ever seen. The Creeper was the other winner, an apparent retcon featuring a left-wing Bill O'Reilly type putting a bounty on his secret alter ego. Despite the jetpack in Gotham County Line, Steve Niles knows from creepy and Justiniano, Walden Wong and Chris Chuckry offer a nice visual complement, balancing the creepy with the cartoony. Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters has the potential to be DC's Ultimates, complete with expectations of delays judging by Daniel Acuña's pretty artwork. Trials of Shazam was mildly intriguing, but Judd Winick's writing it so it's doomed by association in my mind. OMAC and Martian Manhunter did nothing for me at all. There's also a seventh preview (prologue?) that acts as bookends, featuring yet another dip into the fully tapped out Crisis on Infinite Earths well that comes off as little more than an admission that 2+ years of plot-hammering still left the DCU with a number of rough edges that need sanding.

Young Avengers #12 (Marvel, $2.99)
Okay, so it's pretty clear that "Kree-Skrull War II" fell victim to Allan Heinberg's strained schedule -- The O.C., Wonder Woman, Grey's Anatomy -- as this story arc ends two issues too early and everything is wrapped up too quickly. But rarely has coitus interruptus been so satisfying, as Heinberg and Jim Cheung make the most of this premature conclusion to their noteworthy first season, hitting all the right emotional beats and ending things on an up-note. Cheung's clever use of dense splash pages balanced by six-panel layouts for the big fight scene brought one of those silly fanboy grins to my face that this series has been chock full of, and Patriot receiving a blood transfusion from his grandfather Isaiah (the black Captain America from Truth: Red, White & Black), literally brought a tear to my eye and provided apt closure for the dicey drugssteroidsMutant Growth Hormone plotline. Hoo-fucking-rah!

Daredevil #86 (Marvel, $2.99)
I jumped onboard the Daredevil bandwagon pretty late in the game, succumbing to Bendis' mega-hyped but underwhelming "Decalogue" story arc, and stuck around for Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark, who have quickly turned this series into a top-of-the-stack must-read every month. This issue, the "$#@% jumps off" as a riot turns Ryker's into a deathtrap whose prey is Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk, forcing them to team up, along with Bullseye, in a brutal fight for their lives. Brubaker handles the action, character and plot development well, with Lark matching him step-for-step, and in the end, Frank Castle gets invited to play. Captain America, Daredevil...DC was crazy to let Brubaker go. If he doesn't take over Moon Knight when Charlie Huston is done, there's no justice in this world.