Saturday, February 19, 2011


               (TOP) Batman Inc #3                                             
(Original Date: Jan '11, Current Date: 3/9/11)             

        (BOTTOM)"The Dark Knight #2"
 (Original Date: December '10, Current Date: 3/23/11)

Those two books right there are just a couple examples of what I feel has become an inexcusable (yet unfortunately incurable) epidemic in comic books today, something I don't recall experiencing...certainly not to this my early years of collecting.

Those 2 titles were marketed as the foundations of the new "Batman Inc." initiative, spearheaded by Grant Morrison, that would effect every book within the Bat-Family.  Bruce Wayne would star in the above two books, Dick Grayson would be featured in Tony Daniel's "Batman", Scott Snyder's "Detective Comics", as well as Peter Tomasi's "Batman & Robin", while the other books would showcase how the incorporation of Batman would impact the lives of Red Robin, Batgirl, Oracle, so on and so forth.  DC heavily pushed the debuts of Scott Snyder of "American Vampire" fame on 'Tec, Tomasi returning to the Bat-family as a writer (as opposed to his editorial stint), as well as David Finch's writer/artist work on DK and the February launch of Batwoman finally in her own book.

With all of the in-house advertisement pushing the "Batman Inc." for a November launch (with Batwoman getting a #0 issue), it seemed like it was going to be huge month for the Bat-family of books.  Well everything went great with "Batman", "Detective Comics", "Batman Inc.", and "Batwoman #0" and that's basically where it all ended for the major pushes. 

Shortly before shipping it was announced that Peter Tomasi was behind (the blame falling on "Brightest Day")and would now start his B&R run 4 months later than intended (see the recently released "Batman & Robin #20).  David Finch's "The Dark Knight #1" kept getting bumped farther and farther back in November's schedule until it eventually became part of December's solicits, and even then was not shipped until the very last week of 2010.  Two of the major selling points of the "Batman Inc" intitative were already way behind from jump street.  And unfortunately this ship has not been righted since...

Grant Morrison's "Batman Inc", the core of the whole idea, had two timely months and is now 2 months behind schedule with NO books shipping in January or February.  In fact, DC's official homepage has 2 issues slated for March but I highly doubt that will be the case.  As a matter of fact what prompted this entire blog was seeing "Batman Inc. #7" in the May DC solicits and realizing..."Shit they haven't even put out issue 3 yet and they expect to get 4, 5, and 6 out between March & April! Hilarious."  I mean, it's not like Grant has ever been known for his timely nature when it comes too books.  Hell, "Joe the Barbarian" has been totally removed from any upcoming Vertigo solicits.  I'm expecting to read the last part of that story when it's included in the HC and never see an actual issue. "Final Crisis", "Batman & Robin", "Return of Bruce Wayne", "The Invisibles", all of those books suffered delays of varying lengths. The first part of "The Road Home" came out before the last part of "Return of Bruce Wayne", and the delay on his "Superman 3D" Final Crisis story also had post-3D books on the shelf before the second issue.  The comic book world as a whole is still waiting for news on "Multiversity" or for the 2nd issue of the Morrison/Jim Lee "WildCats" story arc.

Yet I don't recall "Batman" really suffering during Grant's monthly run, nor do I remember "New X-Men" falling victim to the dreaded deadline doom either.  It had its problems with artists getting the work done obviously, but it was still timely.  So why the delays on those books? Does he have too much on his plate? Does DC not give a damn (which seems to be the case since the company never bothers to address these delays) as long as the books sell?  I say this as a huge fan of Grant's writing.  It's frustrating as hell to really get into a story when you get it so sporadically.  Then again, a friend of mine pointed out that it doesn't really matter because Grant's stories only make sense when you read them collected in a trade anyway.

Finch's "The Dark Knight" started a month late and hasn't come anywhere near recovering.  I mean when the second issue is slated for March 23 as it is, I can easily see that book not hitting shelves until the first week of April.  Which, of course, leaves me with a lot of doubt that he will hit the April & May dates for ishs 3 & 4 either.  To me, Finch was always a cover artist or a one-shot guy.  I don't know if he's ever tackled a monthly book before, especially all on his own, so I don't know if lateness is in his blood, but this book has not been a great indication of his reliability.

"Batwoman", less than a month away from its scheduled February start, also got bumped to an April start with JH Williams actually laying the blame on DC comics by saying "February had been decided on the launch date by the company with reservations about that from me. I felt that was a bit too soon in a realistic look at work progression."  He also went on to say things about making appearances costing him about 3 months of work time.  Obviously I don't know the whole story, the inner workings and what not, but what I do know is that, aside from the Batwoman #0 issue, Williams hadn't done a book since 'Tec #860 (at #875 in March) and the "Batwoman" on-going got announced in April '10. Make of it what you will, but as a fan I just see excuses.

Tomasi's "Batman & Robin" run, which had been as strongly marketed as "The Dark Knight" and "Batman Inc.", finally began on Feb. 9th with ish #20 to mixed reviews (and one stellar opening sequence).  The only things is fans were led to believe he was coming on the book full-time but the May solicits come out the following week only to reveal that Judd Winick is coming on to write a Jason Todd arc with ish #23.  I'm not complaining, I love JT & JW both, but it was certainly a shock to see Tomasi come on for only 3 issues after all this hype.  I suppose "War of the Green Lanterns" takes precedent???

It's not as if comic book delays are exclusive to the world of Batman, I just think they haven't done any favors to the whole concept of "Batman Inc".  The stories being told in all of the books thus far could have been told without ever going public because the crux of the international movement has all been slated to take place in the Morrison book.  We have the annuals that introduced Night Runner, and the two issues of Inc. that have come so far, and nothing else is set up to push the expansion idea....which was the whole basis for going public in the first place. 

I firmly believe the story will play out wonderfully when all is said and done, but as a reader who grew up on comics generally making their deadlines, with creators occasionally churning out two books a month during Marvel's summer months, I find it disruptive (not to mention disappointing) that creators nowadays seem to find it increasingly difficult to get things done on time.

Both "Blackest Night" and "Final Crisis" had a delay month scheduled in and yet neither book was on-time.  I feel like DC telling fans that every issue of the "Flashpoint" mini is going to be 48 pages is basically akin to screaming "EXPECT DELAYS".   And it isn't just DC that's guilty of this with their mega events.  "Civil War", "Secret Invasion", even "Siege" (which was only four issues) all suffered from various delays that hurt the story.  "SI" was too damn long as it was and shoving in delays made it feel that much more laborious.  Even non-event stories like "Old Man Logan" suffered from delays after months of hype and anticipation, and those hold-ups certainly hurt the story.  Most fans I discussed it with didn't really care by the time the conclusion came around because they forgot what happened in the previous issues.

When is "Kick-Ass II #2" coming out? George Perez's "Teen Titans: Games" (I'm surprised we're not still waiting for "Legion of the 3 Worlds" to finish)?  Delays effect comic books across the board.  I know this, and I know sometimes it is unavoidable (Perez having surgery for example).  But I also know that it effects the way I, as a reader, look back on these titles. "Civil War" is a great example of a book that, when I was able to read it as a whole, I actually enjoyed.  Unfortunately reading it so sporadically as it was being released really ruined my enjoyment of the story initially (I still feel too much story was told in the tie-ins instead of the main book but that's a different blog).  Same goes for "Captain America: Rebirth".

Based on the track record of Geoff Johns when it comes to these things ("Infinite Crisis", "Blackest Night", and "Flash: Rebirth" for example), I am fully expecting "Flashpoint" to suffer a similar fate with unfortunate delays that hurt the impact of the story.  Hopefully the reports of Andy Kubert starting the book early to get ahead are true and we don't suffer delays caused by either the written or artistic ends.

Unfortunately I don't think this is something we, as readers, will every get away from.  Quite honestly, I think it's a lose-lose situation for the publisher as well.  If they use a fill-in artist(s) to get the work done, we complain about how it will look in the collected trade.  If a fill-in story is used to insure we get a book every month (like with "Streets of Gotham" recently) we complain about that.  Nobody is going to win in this situation, especially in the case of event books, and we as consumers only speak with our almighty dollar. 

For better or worse, because of who the creators are, we are willing to suck it up and continue to buy the product despite delays and hold-ups.  I myself am guilty a hundred-times over and will admit it freely.  It's just something you either have to accept as a comic book buyer, or something that causes you to quit.  Movie releases get delayed, TV shows take numerous breaks throughout a season, and comic books consistently get pushed back.  That's just the way it is...somethings will never change....

Still, I would just love to ask a duo like Chris Claremont/Mark Silvestri how they managed to pump out two quality issues a month of "Uncanny X-Men" for 3 months out of the year during the late 80's.  Maybe that strategy needs to be passed on down to future generations...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Comics' Best Kept Secret (Six)?

I've been reading "Action Comics" since the Lex Luthor arc started.  Suffice it to say that I was very curious about Luthor's quest to capture the Black Lantern energy.  Then a funny thing happened, it crossed over with "Secret Six" just as I wrote up a blog about the use of Bane & other 90's villains.  Then news got out that Bane would be one of the villains cast in "Dark Knight Rises".  Am I mildly prescient or what? 

Anyway, intrigued by Bane's appearance in "Action Comics" and having only read the "Battle for the Cowl" tie-in issue of "Secret Six" a couple years prior, I decided I would sit down and give the series a read.  I had been reading stellar reviews of Gail Simone's work on the book for quite awhile, about how she had turned Bane into a viable character again, and how it is one of the best monthlies DC has.  One reviewer likened it to Peter David's current "X-Factor", which I think is one of the most underrated "hidden gem" books Marvel publishes, so my curiosity was sufficiently piqued.

I started with issue one of the current on-going series, not realizing there was an earlier mini-series as well as several other pieces of set-up, until I was almost done with all 30 issues, and it hooked me pretty much right from jump street.  From the odd opening sequence featuring the thing in a box repeating "They die or you die", to Catman & Deadshot's convenience store venture replete with character establishing flashbacks, to Bane's dead-on characterization towards Scandal, to the "family" birthday party; the very first issue immediately establishes the vibe of the team, particularly in their treatment of Scandal as she copes with her loss. 

Now having not read any of the material that led up to the on-going it would be understandable to not grasp some of the finer points, but Simone does a wonderful job of letting the newer reader in on what has come before without weighing down the story in exposition.  I know Scandal is hurting from her lover's death but is really the center of the team, I know Catman is suffering from doubt and has a bond of sorts with Huntress, and Bane is the new guy operating as the observer of the team's dynamic.  I found myself immediately intrigued by a group of characters with whom I was almost entirely familiar because they are so strongly characterized.  One issue in and it's very apparent what role each person plays in the team....Ragdoll possibly being the most entertaining character in some time...and I wanted to burn through the series in one sitting just to see how their stories progressed.

Without getting into an issue by issue detail of how things go down, Simone does an amazing job of establishing Catman's mentality in the second issue as he does battle with Batman, while simultaneously exploring the mentality in which the team members approach each other.  They are all willing to do incredibly stupid & selfless things for the better of the team.  Deadshot is willing to let the team think him a traitor in order to save them all during the "Get Out Of Hell Free" card fracas, he also tries to protect the team from Skinhead bikers during their downtime evening, all while watching him fall for Jeanette.  The first story arc brings a whole different understanding to the character of Ragdoll, the arc that sees Catman's son abducted proves just how much of a psychopath this guy can be when pushed.  Seeing Scandal grow from the sorrowful wreck introduced in the first couple pages of the first ish into the woman that confronts her father in the "Action Comics" crossover is impressive.  But the most impressive thing for me as the reader has been watching Bane, the guy who's main claim to fame was breaking the Bat, evolve into such a complete character.

Aloof, observant, and quiet; Bane started the series by uttering view lines ("She vomits again" had me laughing out loud for some reason), and seemingly involved as nothing more than the team meathead.  But simple lines like "This is not morally defensible" as a stripper comes out of a cake do as much to establish a character's mentality as an entire issue devoted to backstory/origin/meaning of life things.  Bane is set-up as a character willing to do anything as long as he can morally justify it, a man who refuses to depend on the drug that made him famous & destroyed him at the same time, and a man who is disappointed when the Six (and this happens frequently) don't fulfill their contract.  It even drives a wedge in the team, forcing Bane to create his own Secret Six to ensure a contract is fulfilled.  His answers to the "They Die or You Die" question in issue #5 are a great example of the type of character he has become.

But the most intriguing part of Bane's character evolution has been his relationship with Scandal Savage.  Recognizing her need for a father figure, Bane decides to fulfill that role for her, and it makes for some hilarious scenes as well as some of the most awkwardly touching moments I've seen in comics.  Bane questioning his "daughter's" date in "Suicide Squad #67" is one of my favorite moments in the run so far for pure hilarity, and their interaction in issue #10 is sad/touching/weird all at the same time.  He forces Scandal out of her leadership position, as much as out of fatherly protection, as because he is disappointed in the way the Six have handled business.  But he is still weak, he still carries Venom with him in the way "a junkie holds on to their works" I believe was how Deadshot phrased it and still has some fear (or something like it) towards Batman as evidenced in issue #17.  As a huge Batman fan, and a fan of the character introduced way back in "Vengeance of Bane", it is so refreshing to find a writer in Simone who can take the basic essence of Bane (a need for control, strong "moral" center) and make it relevant to something outside the Bat-World.  His was a character I feared lost without attachment to the Bat, and Simone has found a way to make him stand on his own.

And that brings me to another part of her writing that amazes me, the ability to take this motley crew of characters that were essentially written off (look at Catman as written by Kevin Smith), and breath new life into them.  Never was I more astounded by anyone's depiction of The Mad Hatter than I was by Simone's when I finally got around to reading the initial "Secret Six" mini-series and how perfectly it played out into the on-going series.  Hatter has never been a character written as a serious threat, or truly fleshed out beyond being an odd guy with Lewis Carroll obsessions.  The character written by Simone is one that I will always remember, and should serve as a template for anyone using Hatter in the future.  Hell, if the character ever sees the big screen in any format, he should be played like this!  I felt like Simone kind of did the same thing for The Penguin in the first few issues of the current "Birds of Prey" story arc too.  Just reminded the world how much of a threat these villains really can be.

That may be her strongest suit in writing these books: reminding fans what characters are capable of.  The Secret Six has been comprised of some reprehensible characters who have done some terrible things prior to, and during, their memberships in this team.  But what Gail Simone has shown throughout the series are the layers to these bastards.  Deadshot's relationship to his daughter in the mini, the Bane/Scandal relationship, the person behind Ragdoll, the therapist's worst nightmare that is Catman, it's all these things (and more) that Simone has incorporated into her story, and a big part of what makes this book worth coming back to.  A book about a bunch of villains with no redeeming qualities would get tired pretty least that's what I keep reading about the current run on "Titans" with Deathstroke's crew.

So in the end, I would give this book the highest of recommendations to anyone who hasn't read it, or who is curious about any of the characters.  If you are/were a fan of Bane than this book is especially for you because he hasn't been written this well in a decade.  Kudos to Gail Simone for all the work done on turning this misfits into a band of characters I actually give a damn about.  Oh, and the art has pretty damn good too!

If you're interested in checking out the trades: Secret Six on Amazon!

Next time: Comic Book Delays!

Monday, February 7, 2011

How Much Is Too Much? (Comic Books & Movies)

"Well, after X-Men hit at the box office, all the studios started buying up every comic property they could get their hands on..." - Brodie in "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back"

Here we are, ten years after that line was uttered in a movie written by sometimes comic book author Kevin Smith and it certainly has an air of truth about it.  Fanboys of the world have seen 4 X-Men related movies, 3 Spider-Man flicks, 2 Batman movies, 2 Fantastic Four's, 2 Iron Man pictures, 2 Hulk movies, a Superman Return, and a fanboy dream finally come true in Watchmen; that's in the last decade (or so) alone that they've all come to the big screen. Those are just some of the marquee names!

That says nothing of the smaller, lesser known properties, like "Whiteout", "Red, "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World", "Jonah Hex", "Constantine", "30 Days of Night", "From Hell" or "Hellboy" movies. 

Then you've got TV properties that are completely comic book like "The Avengers", "The Brave & The Bold", and "Young Justice" cartoons as well as multiple "Spider-Man" toons, or "Walking Dead", "Smallville" and "Birds of Prey" live-action shows.  And of course there's the comic book inspired series' like "Heroes", "The Cape", and "No Ordinary Family". 

And on top of all those that have come and gone, we have the above embedded "Captain America" and "Thor" movies coming this year. Also "The Dark Knight Rises", "X-Men: First Class", "Wolverine", a "Spider-Man" reboot, a "Superman" reboot,  "Ghost Rider: Spirt of Vengeance", "The Avengers", and those are just definite ones on the horizon. 

An "Ant-Man" movie has long been rumored in conjunction with "The Avengers", "Preacher" has been in development hell forever, "Powers", "Aquaman", "Black Panther", "The Crow" remake, a "Spawn" sequel/remake, the "Wonder Woman" and "Hulk" TV projects, and who knows how many other projects that have been rumored, discussed, and never seen the light of day. 

I discovered a wonderful website,, that had a pretty extensive list of damn near every comic book related project I had ever heard talk of, plus some I never knew.  "Harbinger"? "Suicide Squad"?? "Werewolf by Night"??? 

How niche can we get with these things?

I suppose that is the point of all this preamble: where does a line get drawn?  Have movie studios taken to comic book movies as instant money makers?  Or do they simply mine them for established stories that are instantly familiar to a similar fanbase? Or is it a little of column A and column B?

Obviously I'm leaning towards BOTH, otherwise I wouldn't have even put it out there eh? 

The marquee properties like Spidey, Supes, and Bats are sure-fire money makers even when the movies themselves are critically panned.  "Batman & Robin" is without a doubt one of the worst movies of ANY genre, but still grossed $238,317,814 worldwide on a $125,000,000 budget, plus $58,492,667 on rentals. 

A more recent critical failure like "Spider-Man 3" got $890,871,626 worldwide on a $258,000,000 budget with $124,104,508 in US DVD Sales.  And these are two movies that were "failures" to the point that their respective studios rebooted the franchises (Batman after 8 years, and Spider-Man after 4 years).

On the other side you've got movies like "Scott Pilgrim" that raked in only $47,738,549 box office worldwide, $14,114,518 in US DVD sales so far, and with a $85,000,000 production budget.  Or a highly anticipated adaption like "Watchmen" that got "only" $185,258,93 worldwide gross with a $130,000,000 didn't even make back it's budget in US box office.  For a movie as long awaited as "Watchmen", that's atrocious.   

Not every comic book movie equals money obviously, nor do they equal quality.  "Jonah Hex", "Ghost Rider", "Elektra", and "Daredevil" are just some examples of movies that hit both nails on the head.  Disappointing to fans and critics alike, these are a small sampling of movies that were so bad they may never see sequels OR reboots:  "Ghost Rider" being the only exception but that's because Nicholas Cage has apparently made his own deal with the devil to get it done.

So why plug away at properties that aren't on the level of a Supes or Bats?  My theory is that there is a built-in audience and built-in stories when you use any adapted property.  Comic books have a loyal fanbase, one that is likely to give ANY comic book movie the benefit of the doubt just to see if the studio can pull it off.  The stories are largely written for you, especially given that most movies involve an origin story of some sort, and all the writer has to do is adapt it to the screen.  Unfortunately there-in lies the other side of your built-in audience...the hyper-critic.

Comic book fans are going to shred the movie to bits for every flaw that doesn't jive with proper continuity or show the hero in the "proper" characterization.  They will spread the word to other fans who haven't seen the movie yet about how Wolverine's memory got erased with a bullet, how Superman has a son, or how the end of Watchmen isn't like the comic.  They will encourage other fanboys not to see these movies, these fans will read on websites everything that made the movie not EXACTLY like the comic, and they will poo all over it. 

Hell, even a movie almost identical to the source material like "Watchmen" will get shit for being too close to the original material thus inaccessible to those who haven't read the "greatest graphic novel in the history of time".  I guarantee both "Thor" and "Captain America" will catch hell for something that's not "just like the comic book", if they haven't already from the trailers.  It's a lose-lose situation in that regards, the die hard fans will always be the harshest critcis, but the box office grosses on the financially successful adaptations make it well worth the risk for comic book studios, as well as for the company that owns the source material. 

Even TV stations gets into the game with two series running right now in "The Cape" and "No Ordinary Family".  I haven't watched "The Cape" at all, but I watch "No Ordinary" every week...and I'm not sure why to be honest.  It's not terrible, but it isn't good.  It's like a sitcom in that every week the family does the same "hide our powers" schtick, deals with the same problems in a different way, and there's a slight progression in the larger story some weeks.  And I do mean slight, the show has been running for 13 episodes, with 6 more to go, and the viewer hasn't learned jack about how they got their powers, about why Stephanie's boss has his own super power army. 

We do know both kids make the same stupid mistakes every single episode, we know Katie is the cute nerd who pops me by making X-Men references for everything, and we know that Michael Chiklis is better than this, at least anyone who has watched "The Shield" knows this.  A friend of mine referred to this show as a rip-off of "The Incredibles" which was a rip-off of "Fantastic Four", and well I can agree, I also see this as what "Heroes" would have been if it was as advertised.  "Ordinary People With Extraordinary Powers" was the tagline I believe, and essentially that's what "No Ordinary Family" is, and ordinary people aren't all that interesting.  Good effort, not a terrible show, but certainly the TV medium trying to cash in on superhero drama. 

So I ask, where will it end? Will it end? Will comic book property adaptions reach a saturation point with the general public?  Action movies certainly did in the 80's as evidenced by the dropoff in the careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone after a certain point.  And it's not like Hollywood has really established a true action hero since their time...well, maybe Jason Statham.

At first I thought Warner Bros/DC were doing things the right way by taking their time to put out the core movies and not rushing things out just to do it. That certainly seemed to be the case with Christopher Nolan's Batman flicks, but then I read that the Green Lantern movie already has a sequel written, possibly to be shot before the first gets released, as well as talks of fast-tracking a "Flash" movie, and I get worried.  I've already got my doubts about Marvel's ability to pull together a unified film-world across so many different movies, and it seemed like Jon Favreau had the same concerns in leaving the "Iron Man" franchise.

Will this glut of movies in the next few years bring an end to the comic book era of Hollywood? Or will the (hopefully) high quality of the few outweigh the downsides of the many?  Can one bad movie bring an end to everything?  Or will we have another "Dark Knight" in "DK Rises" that forces everyone else to up their game? 

Only time will tell, but one thing I can say is that it is a great time to be a comic book fanboy/movie nerd. Never before have we had so many options, never before has our beloved medium been so exposed to the masses, and hopefully that means more fans coming on board and building the industry.  I know so many people who are now obssessed with "The Walking Dead" because of AMC's TV show, who asked to read "Watchmen" after seeing the movie, or wanted to see what was up with "Green Lantern" to prepare for the movie.  Some will check the source out and stick around, some will stick with just movies, but it can be a good thing for more people to come into "our" industry and say hi. 

Just please, Marvel/DC and their ilk, don't forget about the little guys that have been supporting you through thick and thin....we loved you through chromium covers and we'll buy all 14 "Flashpoint" tie-ins as long as you treat us right.
Worldwide: $185,258,983