The Creative Desert Of Mainstream Comics

August 16th, 2011 by Kyle

Kyle here;

I have an admission to make. I don’t read comics. I haven’t for years.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to read them – a lot. In the 80s, the comics I read were The Nam, GI Joe, and Groo – all of them mainstream Marvel comics, and none of them superhero stories. Later I graduated to Vietnam Journal and Spawn, before finally discovering manga and leaving American comics more or less entirely. I’m one of those readers that the mainstream comics industry lost through its failure to expand the kinds of stories they tell. The circulation figures show that there’s a lot of people like me out there.

So what happened? Total artistic and creative stagnation at the Big Two. The base of the problem is that for many reasons, the Big Two have come to believe that they can skate by by continuing to to write the same basic stories about the same set of a couple dozen or so half-century-old characters forever.

Part of this is the fault of the companies for refusing to take chances and because of their fear of dealing with with creator-owned characters – but part is the fault of the fans. Well, not all of the fans – but a certain segment of the fans that is becoming an increasingly large percentage of a shrinking market. This is a segment that wants comics to be, better art aside, basically exactly the same as they were when these (now early middle-aged) fans were kids, and to never, ever change. Look, for example, at the negative reaction many fans had to Peter Parker and Mary Jane finally getting married after – what – 40 years? Plenty of people bitched and groaned that “Peter Parker should always be the lovable loser!”. In other words, that the character should never grow, change, mature, or even find himself in different circumstances. That’s the kind of attitude you’ll find in a lot of the hardcore base of comics fans.

The thing is, this becomes a vicious cycle. The more that comics sales shrink, the more that the comics companies listen to their remaining fans, and the more the comics they produce are written to appeal to – and often only to – those hardcore fans. Thus comics goes from an industry (and I’m talking about the comics themselves, not the related movies) with broad appeal to a large audience to increasingly being a niche market that appeals to a small but loud group of hardcore fans.

At very least, this feeds into the mentality of the current crop of editors at the Big Two, who simply can’t get over their own personal Silver Age fetish. You’d think that they might have taken a hint from the rise of manga (at least before that market got destroyed by piracy). If you want to attract new readers, you need to appeal to more people than simply your base of hardcore fans. You need to get new characters in new situations, and to expand the kinds of stories you do. I mean, when was the last time there was even a noteworthy war comic from the Big Two, or a science fiction story that wasn’t based on an already-existing property (Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, etc.)? The Nam, maybe?

In the end, deciding never to take any risks is in itself taking a risk. Yes, the Big Two can coast for a long time on their hardcore fans and on being intellectual property outlets for movies and animated TV shows. But they can never really grow or be what they were like that.

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Categories: comics

Caving In

June 23rd, 2011 by Dave

Hey folks,

 

So, three things here: an explanation, a mea culpa, and a DaveRant (can we get that trademarked?).

 

So, like Kyle said, we’re backlogged because we’re putting the finishing touches on the new NPC Comics secret lair. And frankly, the bureaucracy of getting things up and running is really honking us all off. I mean, we’ve got the rottweilers, we’ve got the particle beam guns, and we’re still waiting for FDA approval to finish our ‘enhanced security corps’? Damn government paperwork. I thought this was America, not Stalinist Russia.

 

Second, yes, I did cave in and went to see Green Lantern with everyone else. So, I did prove the old adage about nerd rage being impotent. In my defense though, I went to go see it out of a sense of vindication and schadenfreude after reading the initial reviews. And really, I don’t have anything more to add other than what Kyle’s written and what reviewers have already said. Other than that Green Lantern dropped 21% between Friday and Saturday opening weekend, forcing Warner Brothers to grin and bear it while saying they were happy that it’s the 4th highest weekend opening for a DC film. But when one of the top 3 happens to be ‘Batman Forever’…

 

And now we come to the part you’re all here for, the DaveRant (seriously, why aren’t we trademarking this?). We were going to save this for the show recording this weekend, but this just needs to be said.

 

So, on Wednesday, July 22, Superman #712 hit the stands. Or, should we say, Superman #712b hit the stands. As Comics Alliance reports, DC pulled a last minute switch, so #712 is now a ‘lost classic’ about Krypto looking for Superboy in the aftermath of ‘Final Crisis’. Instead of the submitted, approved, written, drawn, inked, colored and fully completed  story about Superman teaming with a Muslim superhero to fight intolerance.

 

Just…wow.

 

Chris Sims did a masterful job at deconstructing the deal in his article. And I agree with his assessment that this switch was done in response to the criticism DC faced from the extreme Right Wing (and certain comics fans, such as yours truly, who are far less pants-crapping insane than the extreme Right Wing), when Superman renounced his American citizenship. More than that, though, I think this is a sign of DC starting to enter panic mode.

 

This has been a rough year for DC. They’ve faced criticism for Batman and Superman from conservative outlets. The first month of Flashpoint has seen them loose market share. Apathy from comics fans abounds regarding the reboot in August. And their big ‘crown jewel’ this year, the Green Lantern movie, had to endure a lot of criticism from comics fans based on the trailers and the convention clip showings.

 

Like Chris Sims wrote, everything about Chris Roberson’s 712 was good up until the crap-storm over Action Comics 900 hit. Everything that was acceptable and worked within the ‘Grounded’ storyline from November through April was suddenly unacceptable in May. The switch was so sudden, DC didn’t even correct the synopsis of the issue on their own website by the day 712 was released. To me, this doesn’t seem like a planned decision; this was a gut ‘oh crap!’ reaction in an attempt to do damage control. Whether the decision came from WB or from the editorial council at DC remains to be seen.

 

Ultimately, I think this is going to further damage DC’s reputation among comics fans. A sudden switch like this to appease a lunatic right-wing fringe that doesn’t buy comics in the first place only further alienates a core audience that’s pretty much tired of DC’s antics. This has all the earmarks of a decision made by businessmen rather than creators. Loss of market share and fan apathy? Must be because those loud mouths that don’t buy our comics anyways are right; kill the feel-good Muslim story.

 

Beyond the fan alienation, this is going to hurt DC’s relationship with comics professionals as well. There will probably be some undeserved fan backlash at Kurt Busiek, since he wrote the Krypto story that is now 712. I say undeserved because a) Kurt is a generous, cool person, based on the times I’ve talked with him, and b) he probably wrote that story for a filler either during or right after ‘Final Crisis’ and DC sat on it; it’s not like Geoff Johns called up Kurt right after the decision was made to can 712 and asked him to fully script a comic within a week, so that there’s another week for art before going to press.

 

Also, DC has royally pissed off George Perez, a certified comics legend. Perez is scheduled to write Superman post-reboot and had drawn a variant cover to the original 712. The variant cover apparently was done in honor of a friend of George’s, and DC didn’t tell him that the issue (and thus the variant cover) was going to be scrapped. He found out once 712 hit the shelves. This is not making for a harmonious environment at DC when you treat the co-creator of Teen Titans and the writer you’re placing in charge of your corporate flagship like he’s some expendable fanboy artist. Make no mistake, George is a true professional, and he’ll devote 100% to Superman, personal feelings aside; but I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes his run as writer for Superman shorter than DC wants.

 

Then there’s this: the comics world is still dealing with the sudden death of Dwayne McDuffie earlier this year. This is a man who did more to bring true equality and diversity to comics than anyone else. At the WonderCon tribute panel a month or so after his death, people were not just morning the loss of Dwayne, but the loss of what he represents. Bruce Timm was asked what would happen to all the Milestone characters Dwayne had created and now being integrated into the DC Universe; he responded ‘I think the better question is what’s going to happen to diversity in the comics industry, since there are so few non-white professionals in the mainstream companies’. And now DC, a company Dwayne helped to diversify, helped remove the stigma of Sinbad’s Black Lighting joke bit from Saturday Night Live, helped change Vibe from a bad Rico Suave clone with powers into a three dimensional hero, and gave DC such an incredible and relatable hero in Static; now DC wants to bury a story about a Muslim hero facing prejudice in the name of quieting vocal criticism from people that don’t buy their product anyways.

 

The irony is so thick, not even Kryptonian heat vision can cut through it.

 

Ultimately, DC is sending a message with their handling of 712. And that message is ‘The CCA and the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency have not died’. We all thought that once Marvel and DC dropped the CCA and went to self-distribution, such censorship in the name of grandstanding ‘think of the children’ politics was gone forever. Of course, in comics, no villain ever dies, especially when there’s no body left behind. Like some master villain revealed to be alive in a splash page at the end of an issue, comics censorship is alive and well in the 21st Century.

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Categories: Announcements, comics

Episode 82 Show Notes

May 5th, 2011 by Kyle

Episode 82: The Filibuster

Sponsored By LaBella Gift Baskets & Cards

Starters:

  • RIP Jerry Lawson, inventor of cartridge video games
  • RIP Akinari Matsuno, author of the MM! light novels
  • RIP William Campbell of Star Trek
  • RIP Hubert Schlafly, inventor of the teleprompter

Geek News:

  • From the Hollywood Desk:
  1. Green Lantern getting $9 million upgrade to effects
  2. Arnold pushing return as Terminator in new movie with Fast Five director Justin Lin
  3. Armie Hammer to play The Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp to play Tonto?
  4. John Lasseter says no Marvel heroes at Pixar
  • From the Television Desk:
  1. Florida man charged with battery after “Game Of Thrones”-inspired melee
  2. Jason Momoa: Game of Thrones sex scenes with Emilia Clarke “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do”
  • From The Comics Desk
  1. Superman renounces US citizenship
  2. Archie Digital Comics releasing Spanish editions
  • From the Gaming Desk:
  1. Sony admits PSN network personal data has been stolen
  2. Marvel MMO to be free to play
  3. Nintendo to show off successor to Wii at E3 in June, release in 2012
  • From the Anime Desk:
  1. Dragonball Kai soundtrack composer fired for plagiarizing James Horner, Danny Elfman
  2. Shaft upgrades Madoka Magica for Blu-ray release
  3. Kanye West’s custom Akira motorcycle for sale
  • From the Cellar:
  1. Stephanie Meyer working on mermaid novel
  2. Pittsburgh faces ninja outbreak
  3. Insane Clown Posse considers writing their own dictionary

Five-Minute Reviews:

Pick Of The Week:

Stuff You Should Know About:

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Categories: Show Notes

Renouncing Citizenship in the DC Nation

April 28th, 2011 by Dave

Let’s get a few things out of the way, right off the bat.

This is not me being jingoistic. I do not subscribe to the ‘America, Love It or Leave It’ philosophy.

This is not me agreeing, except in the most broad terms, with certain news sources and media personalities. In many ways, they are a big part of the problems facing this nation.

This is not me trying to jump onto a controversy, manufactured or otherwise, in order to increase listenership, readership, or any other kind of publicity.

This is about the destruction of an American icon in the name of greater profits and publicity. Something that, left or right, natural born or migrant, American or other nationality, can all agree is the complete antithesis of Superman.

If you are just waking up from a coma, Action Comics #900 has hit the stands. It is a milestone in comics not just in it’s numerological sense, but also in a more philosophically vital sense. This is the issue where Superman renounces his US citizenship.

Of course, as the current creative team would like to kick John Byrne’s ‘natural born citizen because of the birthing chamber’ bit of canon to the curb, Superman is an alien. Yet, he has always been a symbol for America. Acceptance for others. Respect for those who may be different than you. Those with great power using it towards the good of society. Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Only, it’s that last bit that DC Comics feels needs to go in order to boost sales globally.

What is the American Way? For better or for worse, it is up to each person, American or otherwise, to decide for themselves what those two words mean. For myself, and hopefully many more rational and moderate people, it means the one of the most famous, and seemingly most ignored by some, sentence from the American Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is the belief that we are stronger as a society when we respect each other and compromise for the common good. It is a belief that those with gifts have a responsibility to use those gifts to better themselves as well as society; that the strong should help the weak, should the ask for aid, to become stronger in their own right.

What is wrong with these ideals? Why is it so unmarketable to believe and stand for those ideas? It is not the core that Superman evolved into in the Golden and Silver Age that is unmarketable, but what many see as ‘The American Way’ today. For over 200 years, America was seen as the guiding light and promise of freedom and tolerance. If today, that is no longer the case, I submit that the fault lies not in the promise, but that we American have slowly failed to uphold that promise.

I love my country; I’m proud of my country. Yet I see the flaws in it and the widening divide as mutual respect is lessening in our national debate. Xenophobia is on an upswing cycle, as it is from time to time. But these things can and will be overcome. It won’t be an easy struggle to bring civility back and once again become the guiding light and promise we once were, but it is worth the effort. And the last thing we need is for a symbol as great as Superman to walk away from that struggle. Of course, DC will have us believe that Superman is just expanding his own directive to try and do more good; that he is (understandably) tired of being a political tool. This is so much nonsense on so many levels.

First of all, over the 70+ years of publication, Superman is an indelible icon of America, every bit as important as the Statue of Liberty or the Liberty Bell. Even though he is a fictional character, divorcing Superman from America is the same as divorcing those historic symbols from America.

Second, even Superman saying saying that he is no longer an American in order to be used as a political tool, doesn’t mean that he won’t be still used as a political tool. As we are already seeing, Superman walking away is being used by certain pundits to further their own goals. And these goals are far from the ideals that Superman represents. All this is doing is stripping Superman’s ability to argue against these people.

Third, as some people have already pointed out, this whole stunt is predicated on the idea that with Superman no longer being an American, kids in Europe, Japan, and other places will all of a sudden say ‘Hey, Superman was a douche when he was an American, but now he’s awesome!’

Fourth, and most disturbing to me, is that it turns Superman, epitome of idealism, into a hypocrite. Is Clark Kent going to renounce his citizenship as well? Will Clark stop writing articles that can be construed as politically biased in any way (i.e. ‘a tool of the liberal media’)? Will Clark pay his taxes to support a US Government that he dosen’t agree with?

In so many ways, Superman is a representation of all that is good and right about the potential of America. Both are at their best wen they act as the elder statesman or brother figure; not controlling, manipulating, or domineering others into their philosophy, but leading by example and holding true to their principals. Superman walking away doesn’t solve any of the problems that are causing this crisis; it only makes them worse. America needs the symbol of Superman more than ever to show us how great we can be if we try. Instead he will be used to strengthen the ideals that are an anathema to him.

This is literally the straw that broke the camel’s back here. Although I’m sure I will get lumped in with people and organizations that I do not agree with ideologically, I am going to be boycotting all DC and Warner Brothers productions until this situation is resolved. I’ll also be boycotting all products advertised through Warner Brothers media. No Green Lantern film. No Harry Potter. No Cartoon Network. No CNN (I’ll be using MSNBC to balance out Fox). No reviews of any of the films or shows. If you agree with the points I’ve made and feel the same, I encourage you to join in the boycott and make your voice heard. If you don’t agree, that’s fine, I respect your opinion. After all, isn’t that really the American Way?

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Categories: Announcements, comics