Is Rebirth DC’s last, best hope?

I haven’t tended to keep up on comics news of late. But it’s been difficult to avoid the news of DC’s newest line-wide relaunch, Rebirth, which had been rumored for a while, but was made official at ComicsPRO this week.

The short of it is:

  • The entire line is getting a relaunch, starting with (mostly) new issue #1s.
  • There will be a series of “Rebirth” one-shots to introduce the new titles.
  • Several titles will be going twice a month.
  • Action and Detective, DC’s longstanding legacy titles, will resume their original numbering
  • Total number of titles will be 32.

In a lot of ways, this feels like another New 52, although it’s being framed as not starting from scratch like that was, and there’s an effort to connect with past continuity and to respect everything that’s come before. So, potentially, it will at least appeal to old fans who got jaded that time around.

The big question is, will it work? DC’s sales have been pretty consistently poor, they’ve lost the trust of retailers, and their efforts to bring in new readers have not been met with success. Last year’s DC You was pretty much a failure all around, despite apparently having some very innovative and good books in the effort.

Based on that past history, I’m skeptical. I can see things that look neat and interesting, but I also get the sense that DC is failing to learn from past mistakes. They aren’t identifying the true core problems. And so even if the Rebirth line is good, it still may be doomed to failure.

One big problem is DC has consistently been unwilling to have an open discussion about their plans with outside sources. The New 52, Convergence, and other line events seemed to come out of nowhere, with little warning or indication about what they were thinking. This seems to possibly even be true with their creative talent.

There are obvious problems with editorial and the decisions they’re making. I don’t know if that’s an issue with DiDio and Lee, or with others in senior positions. I’d gather at least in part the latter, because of all the rumors about problems within the Superman group (which also looks after Wonder Woman), but that in itself indicates there’s some blind spots for those people at the very top.

Maybe Rebirth is answering these. Bleeding Cool believes that Marguerite Bennett is going to be the new writer on Wonder Woman, which would probably indicate a pretty massive change for that title’s editorial oversight. And they aren’t ditching all their recent experiments. Gotham Academy is still happening, which is a massive positive in my book. It seems that unlike New 52, they aren’t going to switch to completely new creative teams just because. If a book is working, it should continue to work after the relaunch.

I truly believe that DC wants to have an expanded and diversified audience. The sudden success of Batgirl of Burnside gave them a taste, as did looking over at the success of Ms. Marvel, and I get the sense that the entire DC You effort was built to try and replicate that. However, the insular nature of how they make decisions means that they also don’t really understand how or why such things are a success.

This desire is also at odds with their tried and true strategies. Geoff Johns might be a great creative talent, but he inherently looks backwards for inspiration. The things he writes are not inclined towards expanded and diversified audiences. And you can’t have a “let creatives try new things and do their own books without distraction” along with “tie everything together and get back to our roots.” One or the other is going to run into problems. From past efforts and results, it’s the former that’s going to get the short end of the stick.

Not all of this is DC’s fault. They’re dealing with trying to make the best of a poor situation, and it can be difficult to read the signals of success or failure. But ultimately they are still trying to do new tricks using the same old tools in the same workshop as they always have.

DC’s real problem is that the direct market.

The direct market is a backwards, opaque, and incomprehensible beast. It’s often difficult to understand how it works even for people who are well into reading comics. I was chatting with a friend yesterday and realized he had no clue how it all really worked. And he’s been reading comics for more than 20 years. For someone who is a new, potential fan, it’s probably even worse.

It would seem like if you went out and found a book that appealed to you and bought it, that would be enough to indicate your interest to the publishers. But that doesn’t work. The nature of the direct market means that they can’t see sales directly, they only see what retailers order. Nothing is returnable, so retailers need to guess about demand. Only in situations where a book explodes in popularity, thus requiring reorders and additional print runs, will the publishers have a direct idea of sales.

Only in cases where a book explodes in popularity, requiring re-orders and extra print runs will this information cycle be broken. But even that isn’t a good situation for a new fan. If you hear about a new hot book that you might like and go down to the store to get it only to find out that it’s sold out and won’t be back for a month or two (even as current issues continue to come out), what are you going to do? Buy the issues you can get and wait to read them or lose interest and move onto something else.

The entire system is predicated on pre-orders. That’s how you signal to a retailer that you’re interested in a book. Well, how are you going to know if you’ll like a book three months before it comes out? Option one is to be psychic. Option two is to guess based on the things you already like.

What this creates is a system that is inherently geared towards older, more experienced (white, male) fans at the exclusion of all else. Since neither major publisher does outreach to potential new readers, they have no way to break into the cycle unless something very strange happens. Ms. Marvel managed its success by becoming the bestselling digital title, which did provide instant feedback. Such things are few and far between, though.

In that case, the existing readership is pretty set in its ways. At this point, it likes Marvel, particularly Marvel that is similar to the MCU. (It also probably likes X-Men and Fantastic Four, but Marvel is perfectly willing to dick over some long time fans in the name of sticking it to Fox.) It also likes Batman, who continues to do well for DC. But other than that? Roll the dice, man. Any book will probably get a core of dedicated readers, but it’s rarely enough to sustain itself.

The major outreach falls to the creators, which is particularly sad. “Buy my book!” they’ll cry out. “Here’s how to order it from your comic store.” And they’ll note the ordering code to use. This is a pretty shitty thing to expect creators to do over and over again, especially for IP they don’t actually own. But even when it works, it still reinforces existing patterns: fans following creators they know and like (rather than characters.)

But what about ordering the trade, you might ask? Oh, you sweet summer child, that’s adorable. Despite the fact that it’s long been becoming a normal and perfectly rational strategy to read books that are already created in 4-7 part chunks that will be combined into a trade paperback, it very rarely will happen in time to affect the life of a book. Everything needs to happen for those first few issues, well before the trade has even hit the catalogue.

Where does this leave DC’s Rebirth? I don’t entirely know, but based on what’s gone on before, it will probably see some initial interest, but much of that will be too late to save several books. Batman will continue to do well, because Batman. Some others may do just well enough to catch on. But it’s not going to drastically alter things in its favor. And it will probably have to do another one of these the next couple of years to stave off the bleeding.

This isn’t too say that DC is going to fold and Marvel will reign supreme. There’s enough indication that Marvel is also following an ultimately losing strategy. Their All New, All Different line isn’t succeeding all that well and the problems that they have in sticking to a schedule mean that resetting their entire line each year gets more and more confusing to try and follow. It’s a case of diminishing returns. But Marvel, at least, doesn’t need to put forth as much effort to keep selling books to the same old crowd.

There are no easy solutions, though. If DC is serious about wanting to try and reestablish itself and court new readership, it’s going to need to come up with some new strategies to do that. It’s going to need to find a way to have some success without relying on the direct market system.

The MCU Shuffle

The news of the moment is the addition of a new film added to the ever impressive Marvel Cinematic Universe lineup. This time around it’s a sequel of sorts to this summer’s Ant-Man, and will be entitled Ant-Man and the Wasp.

I’m going to assume that this will be the Scott Lang Ant-Man played by Paul Rudd and the Hope van Dyne Wasp played by Evangeline Lilly who was teased at the end of the film, and not some Hank Pym played computer-de-aged Michael Douglas led vehicle. (Although an entire film set in the 80s would be kinda cool.)

The selected date for this film is almost three years from the first: July 6, 2018.

But wait, you think. Wasn’t something already in that date? Yes, yes there was. The Black Panther movie starring Chadwick Boseman had been slotted in that prime summer moment and now has to vacate it for the… higher profile (?) sequel.

Also on the move is the Captain Marvel movie, leaving it’s November 2018 release date.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these two films on the move. A year ago, they were originally announced for November, 2017 (Black Panther) and July 2018 (Captain Marvel). Oh, for those heady days when we were all excited about a CM movie in a prime summer slot. Those plans were torpedoed once Sony and Marvel got to an agreement to fold Spider-Man into the MCU. Spidey’s a huge character, of course, and he needs a huge character release date. Like that prime July 2017 slot, which had been held by Thor 3. So Thor moved to the November slot held by Black Panther, BP moved to the July slot held by Captain Marvel, and CM moved to the November 2018 slot held by… nothing.

(Unaffected in all these shuffles were GotG 2, Avengers 3 and 4, and Inhumans.)

This time, there is some supposedly good news. Black Panther is actually moving forward in the schedule. Not quite as early as its original release date, but now it’s slotted in February, 2018, just in time for the President’s Day weekend. It’s also primed to capitalized on Black History Month!

I say that news is supposedly good, because, well… February’s a bit of a down month. It tends to be a bit cramped, filling up with mid-tier releases, and while some do gather a fair amount of success, true breakouts are few and far between. Only two films, ever, have earned more than $200 million domestically after opening in February: The Passion of the Christ, which, well, had a number of other factors at play, and The LEGO Movie.

What this shift says to me is that Marvel feels more confident in a sequel than in an original property. It feels like preemptive damage control. Why waste a prime slot when you can just give it an acceptable one. The holiday weekend can be quite good for business, but after that it’s kind of a long haul, as March tends to fill up with high profile releases that take audience attention. Plus, besides that one holiday Monday, there’s little to otherwise bolster it. Easter and spring breaks aren’t until over a month later.

So that’s BP, which we get earlier, but doesn’t really speak of any faith the studio has in the property.

What about Captain Marvel? It’s jumping four months later to March of 2019. If it’s moving, surely something is going into its slot.

However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Last time it moved it was because BP was taking its place. BP’s going in the other direction, so why is Captain Marvel moving?

As best I can tell it’s for some balance. With the AM&TW jumping in the schedule and the moves, the MCU now has three films a year from 2017-2019. They also announced three untitled for 2020, so that seems to be what they want their output to be at.Had Captain Marvel stayed November 2018, that would have had four films hitting that year. (Avengers 3 is hitting in May 2018 and isn’t going to be affected by any changes.) That’s too many, I suppose, so CM abandons the November slot for nothing.

Its new March date has been pitched as a good thing. It speaks of confidence because now it’s starting the blockbuster season, whatever that means. It’s also on International Women’s Day.

So how is the new date? Well, it’s okay. The new date is probably on par with the old one. I’ve tended to feel that the early November release dates are overrated. The films that are big for them are because of the film, not the calendar. They’re too early to get a bump from both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the huge films that hit later in the month take away their thunder. It’s possible Marvel agrees. With this shift of CM, they don’t have any late year releases after Thor 3.

March doesn’t really have that problem. There is the capacity for big films, but they tend to spread out. Easter is a mobile holiday, so it can help, but it could also be a wash. Spring breaks hit at different times, but provide some boost.

In contrast, early November tends to be facing really light competition, much as early May does. October’s becoming a stronger month, but it tends to be from one standout rather than a glut. February, as noted above, sees a glut.So really, for CM, the shift is probably a wash for potential. November and Holiday sounds sexier, but March is good enough. But the surrounding message is unsatisfying. This is a film that originally had that prime July slot. That was the slot that held Dark Knights and Pirates and Harry Potters. You’ve got some studio oomph in that Mid-July slot. Now this film has been bumped nine months later. It’s gone from Hoo-Rah! to sexy! to …okay?

On one hand, I get it. Schedules are going to change. Things will happen and hiccup and a studio needs to adjust. But last October when Marvel did their big release announcement, they were met with universal praise. “This is how you do announcements,” people said. “Look! We’ve got Black Panther and Captain Marvel!”

A few weeks earlier, WB had more or less revealed their DC movie schedule in an investor call. The contrast between the two was highlighted. Marvel showing, yet again, that it does things the right way.

Now they’ve basically squandered and ruined all that goodwill. The excitement over Black Panther being the first POC lead remains. It was going to come out three weeks before the Jason Momoa led Aquaman, and now it’s going to have a few more months lead time.But Captain Marvel, oh. She has a fierce and dedicated fanbase They were excited and have now seen two release date shifts. Now they get to rationalize how this is a good thing. All while wondering how long it’s going to be before the part is even cast. Boseman is suiting up with the Panther tights next summer, prior to his own film, but we may not see anything of Captain Marvel before March of 2019.

Perhaps that’s by design. The original announcement may have been entirely to get people fired up, but the production heart may not be in it. Something, anything, could happen and they may quietly bump the release date again. Or perhaps cancel it entirely.

This wouldn’t be a surprise. Fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow movie for years, but there’s no indication of any interest from the studio. Kevin Feige has highlighted her supporting spots in various films, but that’s not the same thing. Feige has also said that they have a grand plan for the MCU, and they can’t just force something into the lineup, like a Black Widow movie. But now we’ve seen two films forced into the lineup. The grand plan is all smoke and promises.

Those promises are empty.

(WB, it should be noted, never did a full announcement of those release dates. They had previous selected various untitled film dates, and we could match them to the announced titles, which have mostly been confirmed at this point, but it was just a little bit looser and gives them the option of deniability. If something happens to cause a shift, they don’t really have egg on their face because of it.)

A year and a month of Marvel Unlimited

One of the great things about Netflix is that it has a complete history of your viewing habits. Want to know exactly what you were watching in June of 2010? It’ll be there, saved in the bits of the Netflix video cloud.

Sadly, the same is not true for Marvel’s Unlimited digital comics service. True, when I open the app on the iPad, it has a list of the books I’ve recently read, and this does only show the latest issue for a specific title. But it also only shows the last twenty or so, which for me only goes back into the last month.

I got Marvel Unlimited initially due to a 99 cent sale in celebration of Guardians of the Galaxy. I liked it enough I got another year subscription. Because while the far back issue coverage is spotty and there’s a six month lag time from print, it is pretty comprehensive for recent history and served a pretty great way to catch up on a number of books.

My subscription ends today, though. I may pick it back up again in the future, but there were several blank months where I didn’t read anything, and then ended up doing a reading binge to catch up. Not really the most efficient use of the app.

Still, it was a good thirteen months. And while I can’t comprehensively list what I’ve read, here’s a few things that I dug:

Among recent series, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Storm and Thor are all great. These formed the core of my “regular” titles that ideally I would have read every month.

Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery. Fantastic. As a general rule, I don’t care about big events. In fact, I find them unenjoyable, since they tend to throw roadbumps into the books I read, which are often on the fringes of the main universe offerings. (Crossovers between a handful of related books, or a couple diverse ones, are fine.) So the Fear Itself story didn’t really grab me. But Gillen’s take on young Loki had a lot of humor and pathos and was great reading.

Actually, I went on a bit of a Gillen kick. I didn’t get to his X-Men run, or his pre-JiM Thor, but did cover most of his other stuff. I’m not yet at the point where I can see his linguistic tics (unlike, say, Warren Ellis or Brian Michael Bendis), but it’s still great to see how he constructs a comic story.

On that thought of big events, yeah. So, I abhor Civil War. It’s complete excrement, with a bad plot and characters who are written terribly. And this distaste means that pretty much anything related to it is unreadable. So all those post-Civil War comics that covered stuff about the Superhuman Registration Act? I couldn’t read them. I’d heard the Fraction/Aja Iron Fist series was pretty great. I couldn’t get through the first issue.

Of course, the exception to the previous statement, because I’m not consistent, is that I did read Avengers Academy. Because if there’s a comic trope I am ALL ABOUT, it’s super kids in trouble. This isn’t the best example of the format. There’s some rocky bits and character transitions that don’t feel entirely smooth, but it’s overall enjoyable and some of the new heroes (Hazmat!) are great.

I followed that up with Avengers Arena which is… not quite as enjoyable. It’s still mostly fun, but it does highlight a problem with characters like Arcade. If “murder” is the point of the character, then you need to strike a fine balance to make sure you haven’t crossed some murder event horizon. AA pretty firmly shoves Arcade beyond that, which undermines his ability to return to the goofball villain with a lethal side and instead has him in that realm of “why is anyone putting up with this any longer?”

The ultimate attempt to address this discrepancy in Avengers Undercover is a bit unconvincing. Still, over the course of the three series we did get some fun characters. I’m all about more Hazmat and X-23.

And most recently I settled down and caught up on some Bendis, by reading through his X-Men and GotG runs. As far as the merry mutants, Bendis has a somewhat iffy history. I mean, House of M is terribad. It’s saving grace is that it’s sandwiched between Disassembled (Bendis’ absolute worst book that I’ve read) and Civil War, so you can sort of say it’s not quite as bad as the complete shit around it, but still. I sort of drifted away from Bendis after that, outside of Powers, which has a spotty track record.

Still, thanks to Rachel and Miles, I heard that his X-runs are good. So I gave them a shot.And, yeah. Both All New and Uncanny are very good, bordering into great at times.

All New starts off especially strong, because it’s a really fun and keen concept. It’s especially neat because Bendis is jumping off of a very pre-Claremont point with the characters and then developing them. So young Jean is absolutely fantastic and I kinda want to read any book she’s in.

Uncanny also has a pretty killer hook and does a great job at humanizing Cyclops, which I wasn’t sure was possible. I haven’t read Schism or AvX (events, natch), but what I’d heard seemed to put Cyc through the Cap in Civil War bender from which no character turns out well.

Both titles suffered a bit after their first arcs because they felt like they were spinning their wheels and didn’t have a strong direction. But then it came clear that they were joining up at the Battle of the Atom crossover. Which is okay. Bendis’ stuff is still good but the other books were less so. I don’t want to go into all the stuff surrounding X-Men and why I didn’t read it even though I liked the characters and concepts, but I will say that Wood’s scripts felt like the extreme weak link in this crossover.

The post Battle of the Atom work on both books is great. The Ultimate Adventure for All-New is super keen, and I really liked the lettering changes. The Dazzler stuff in Uncanny is hype. And Eva Bell is just fantastic.

I read GotG because of the All New crossover for the Trial of Jean Grey. Good fun there, though GotG felt like a weaker book than the X-titles. The art is more haphazard and I felt like a number of plot developments happened without sufficient explanation. Still fun, though. And used that to springboard into the Star Lord series, which I could take or leave, really. It’s okay, but feels a little forced. And as a final read is Scottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon book, which is DELIGHTFUL. It’s easily the best of any GotG-related title since the Abnett/Lanning era.

There are a few books I didn’t quite read as much as I wanted to. I got sidetracked from the recent She Hulk book and I’d like to finish it, but I should probably sit down and read it all again from the getgo. Also, due to the time lag, I’m left one issue shy of completing Fraction and Aja’s run on Hawkeye, which is a little agonizing. I should read that from start to finish as well.

I just recently read the first issue of Silk, which seems pretty fun, especially the art. And I wish I’d been able to read more than the very initial appearance of Spider-Gwen. I’m still bitter about the whole One More Day bullshit, but have to admit that Spidey does have a really cool extended cast. Sadly I’ll have to wait to check out any more of this stuff.

So, as a thirteen month attempt, I’d mark Marvel Unlimited a success. I spent $70 or so, which would probably get about 5 TPBs, and I probably read an order of magnitude more than that. Finances willing, I’d probably plop down for another year at some point, but I could also see just doing a month from time to time and doing a binge.

If they can fill in the back issue holes, add a few UI tweaks, and give you a comprehensive list of everything you’ve read, it’d be damn near perfect.

DC’s Movie Future

The big news for comic book geeks right now are the DC changes. The company is dissolving Wildstorm and presumably every other imprint besides Vertigo. All non-publishing operations are moving from New York to SoCal. There are a number of questions up in the air, but for the most part, that’s just a bunch of businessy things to think about.

The reasons for these changes make a lot of sense. DC’s had a problem for a while, lagging behind Marvel for a number of years and often playing copycat to try and catch up. The company has had a broader scope of comics printed, under a number of different imprints, but nothing’s seemed to catch on.

Step one, it seems, is to remove a lot of dead weight. I imagine that in the next few months, they’ll announce how they’ll handle the various creator-owned properties, whether it’s by moving them under the Vertigo banner or something else will remain to be seen.

What’s considerably more fascinating, to me, is a quote by DC head honcho Diane Nelson where she says that they aren’t Marvel. Obvious, of course, but upon consideration, it’s a very smart move.

Marvel’s approach to movies is well understood to be building a universe that will culminate, of sorts, with the Joss Whedon Avengers film in a couple years. I imagine that, if it’s a successful experiment, it won’t stop there, but I don’t get the sense that they’ve got a plan that extends much further until they see how it goes. This eggs in a basket strategy is probably driven by necessity. Due to a number of financial issues Marvel had over a decade ago, the company sold off the rights to a number of characters. They can’t do anything, film-wise, with the two biggest characters under the company’s publishing banner: Spider-Man and Wolverine. (Held by Sony and Fox, respectively.)

In fact, given the attempts under Avi Arad to license out the over 6000 characters in the Marvel universe, many of the more well-known characters are effectively gone for good. (It’s entirely possible that the rights could lapse, but I believe that’s only happened with Hulk. All other major properties have some sort of film in production.) This is a big issue because the money is made on the big screen (and subsequent DVD sales) rather than in the monthly issues. Marvel does the latter very well, and the former was elsewhere. (This last point is what makes the Disney purchase seem so odd.)

Enter the Avengers. Take the remaining characters, most of them second-tier, and hand them off to good directors and such to create a movie universe unlike anything that’s been done before. It’s great branding and gets the word out that this is the Next Big Thing. So long as the films are good, then everything will be hunky-dory. Luckily for Marvel, Iron Man was very good, so things are getting rolling. The Avengers seems like a dream come true: a real superhero team-up film on the big screen. Awesome, right? And not a little bit lucky that they still had Cap, Thor, and ol’ Shellhead in-house.

DC doesn’t have that problem. For the most part, any character under the DC banner has the film rights in-house under Warner Bros. While Marvel’s been all over the place, the dream of a JLA movie has been kicking around at least since the late ’90s. Nothing came of any of those, partially because DC never seemed to be able to do anything besides Batman or Superman, and partially because getting a large cast of superheroes together gets unwieldy. Seriously, when you have too many characters, it’s not good cinema. Just one of the many problems that plagued X-Men 3.

So Marvel may have found the magic formula, however: individual films for a series of characters, then bring them together for the team-up. You don’t need to worry about backstory. And DC’s got a couple of Bat-films in the current series, a Green Lantern film out next year. Just need something new for Supes, work out The Flash and Wonder Woman, and you’re there, right? Easy enough to copy Marvel’s playbook… again.

However, Nelson’s quote indicates that (as of right now) they have no plans to do that. For a couple of reasons, this is probably the best decision. First, there’s the creative side. DC doesn’t have the same necessity. The movie studio isn’t force to use the second tier characters because their big guns are right there, and (at least in Batman’s case), extremely profitable and visible. When the third Batman film comes out, it’s going to do just fine. And Christopher Nolan’s also at work on a Superman film, which has a lot of justifiably high expectations.

However, Nolan’s indicated that he doesn’t really want to push Batman into a bigger group. The stories he’s filming work well on a closed level and I’m going to guess that Superman is going to get a similar treatment. Given that those two are likely tied up and unavailable because of that, it would leave any potential JLA movie in one of two problematic situations: either you film it without Superman and Batman, which doesn’t really scream JLA anymore. Ever since Grant Morrison started on the title back in the mid-90s, it’s been a team that’s the biggest heroes in the DCU, as it was when the team started. Ironically, Marvel’s gone with a similar strategy of late, by pulling Spiderman and Wolverine into the Avengers. However, they can’t match the lineup in the films.

To remove Batman & Superman leaves the league feeling a bit… Justice League International in feel, which is dating back 20+ years.  And unlike the Avengers, there’s a very important tone that needs to be set here. I really doubt any casual viewer is going to know that Wolverine and Spiderman are Avengers. In fact, I’d guess that seeing them in the line-up on the screen would be very jarring. But JLA has had a few seasons of cartoons in the past decade that were very well received and built naturally from the Batman and Superman animated series. Casual audiences, even if they weren’t regular viewers, are likely to assume any similar line-up.

The other option would be to make a JLA film without any connection to the series for the single characters. WB did try this, actually, even getting to the point where they had a cast including Common as Green Lantern and they had George Miller signed onto direct. For a number of reasons, that fell through. If nothing else, it would have been confusing to any audiences. Why wasn’t Christian Bale Batman there?

Well, that brings up the business reasons for avoiding a build-up to the JLA. Ultimately, any film is all about the money. The studio wants to get the best return for the smallest outlay. When you’ve got a multi-franchise series, those costs can build up. Marvel is famous for playing hardball with actors to keep those costs down. Terrence Howard was ousted for Don Cheadle apparently over a contract dispute between the two Iron Man films. The vast majority of the other actors have signed onto multiple picture deals at a relatively low cost, in order to make sure the later films in the Avengers franchise won’t see things spike. Samuel L. Jackson signed a nine film deal after Iron Man.

However, in order to do these things, there needs to be a clear plan ahead of time. WB had no such plan for Batman when they brought Christopher Nolan on board to revamp the character. While trying to do the team thing would have caused some creative issues, it would have also meant needing to negotiate with Bale and the other actors involved after they’d already been in one or two very successful films. This raises the costs considerably. Moreso if you consider that they’d likely have to placate Nolan in some way. (Note that WB seems very strongly inclined to placate him. Even his odd, experimental fare like Inception does very well for them.)

The flipside of the business is even more important. While JLA would be a fan dream film (my friends and I had a game of dream casting it over a decade ago), much as the Avengers film is, what’s the payoff overall. Batman by himself can do half a billion in the US. Superman in a good film can probably clear the triple century mark easily. Other DC heroes are likely at a lower tier. Sure, Green Lantern might have about the same public appeal as pre-Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man, but that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed for $300m US.

DC is already able to look at Marvel for a template on what may happen. As I noted in my last post, the prognosis for the Avengers is… mixed. If it looked like the Marvel properties were building interest, then I think Diane Nelson would be less inclined to defiantly say they aren’t Marvel. But that hasn’t happened with Iron Man, and while we’re a Thor and a Captain America away from getting the Avengers trifecta, what’s the real expectation for those films, regardless of quality? $200m? $250m if they take off? Superheroes aren’t a guaranteed sale anymore. Iron Man was a right-place, right-time, lighting-in-a-bottle moment of everything coming together and hitting perfectly.

Maybe Green Lantern can do that, too. Martin Campbell is a very accomplished director, and has set the tone for the James Bond series twice, now. Ryan Reynolds has a ton of talent and charisma. And even so, that can’t guarantee it’s going to be huge. Big, sure, but not huge.

If the payoff isn’t a guarantee, why would DC even want to try and pull off a JLA film? It’s going to be more difficult, more expensive, and probably more uncertain than Marvel’s current effort. More than that, it’s going to feel like a bit of a copycat. Given that the DC publishing has been playing that game for most of the past decade and losing, why would they want to do the same for the films, when the stakes are so much higher.

No, carving out their own path is much smarter. While at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be anything really innovative at play than a typical franchise, that could change.

Consider the Green Lanterns. They’re already a super team of sorts built into the mythology. More than that, there’s a chance that they could go for something really unique and have a space-faring superhero adventure. Imagine some world building on the level of Avatar as a backdrop of warring Lanterns? Not saying it will happen, but it’s something that Marvel couldn’t easily replicate unless they decide to try and film the Annihilation saga.

And there’s no way they’re going to try and introduce the characters to do that. In that area, at least, DC’s got a head start. Go cosmic. But don’t go superteam. It’s not the smart play.

The Future of Marvel Moviedom

It was supposed to be better than this.

The promise that we were shown in 2008, which saw the rise of a new movie superstar (after a long and troubled career) and the beginning of the first major comic book universe was supposed to skip merrily along.

Marvel had given into that promise, with a series of films that created a franchise without quite being a series. We’d gotten Iron Man and it was brilliant (not perfect, no, but few films are, especially at this level). The sequence of films through 2012 was announced, and it read like a hit list of all the major players of the Marvel U remaining big guns that Marvel hadn’t signed off to Fox or Sony. We’d get Thor and Cap and then the whole Avengers team.

Awesome, right?

They’d lined up some great talent in there, starting with Kenneth Branagh directing Thor (really! Not a joke!) and culminating in the nerdgasm decision to let Joss Whedon helm The Avengers.

All they needed to do was get through the Iron Man sequel. All the same major talent is back, so they just needed to let Downey do his thing and set a few seeds for the future.

Well, now we’ve gotten the better part of two months to look at Iron Man 2. And I’m left to wonder what the hell happened.

Iron Man was a big surprise. It came out of nowhere, turned into a $300m film, and showed that superhero films could work without a top tier character. (True, it got blown out of the water by The Dark Knight, but take away Heath Ledger’s death and the distance between the two films would probably have been cut in half.)

Clearly, if Marvel wanted to get the ball rolling on their own movie production studio, they couldn’t have done it any better way. Following up the film should have been a breeze. Improving on it, business-wise, should have been the simplest thing in the world.

The number of sequels that outperform the well-received originals is immense. In fact, if you’ve got a film that audiences like, you can chuck out a sequel that is regarded as CRAP by everyone and still do better. Look at Transformers 2, which was made WITHOUT A SCRIPT and managed to earn $80m more than the first.

Iron Man 2 isn’t a bad film. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say it’s as good as the first, but it’s entertaining and has some great action sequences along with good funny bits. Downey is again perfectly spot-on for the role, and I don’t think anyone can legitimately complain about him as Tony Stark.

It opened very well, a good 30% more than the first. That’s the (current) fifth largest opening in history. It’s a nice improvement on the already strong opening for the original and while it did have some degree of audience rush (sequels tend to get that more than first films), it should have been an indication that it would outearn the original, and probably was expected to hit somewhere between Spidermans 2 and 3.

The weak slate of films that followed it up in May should have encouraged that. Just about every film released between Iron Man and The Karate Kid underperformed to massive degree. Robin Hood might be the quietest $100m earning film in history. Shrek 4 earned $50m LESS than its predecessor in the opening, and will end up as the lowest grossing film of the entire series by a wide margin. Prince of Persia and Sex and the City were both disappointments. And the best thing that can be said about the five films released post-Memorial Day is that Get Him to the Greek is going to do about as well as expected.

Against such a weak line-up, where should Iron Man 2 ended up? $350m? $400m?

After seven weekends in release, it’s crossed the triple century mark, but just barely. It’s going to pass $305m today. The good news is that Iron Man 1 didn’t get to $300m as quickly. In fact, it didn’t get there until its 48th day in release. (That would be this Friday, had it been released on the same date as IM2.)

The bad news is that at this point in its run, IM1 was earning twice as much per day as IM2.

In its 7th weekend, IM2 earned just shy of $2.9m. IM1 earned over $5.6m. IM1 didn’t drop below $3m a weekend until its 9th.

IM2 fell below half a million in daily takes for the first time last Thursday, its 42nd day in release. IM1 didn’t have that happen until its 60th day.

If you look at the day to day matchups between the two films, there’s a clear pattern. IM2 is ahead, thanks to the extra $30m it got for its opening, but the gap between the two is closing rapidly. The numbers it pulls in are about two weeks behind those for IM1.

Two months ago, the future of IM2 was very bright. It was going to be big, but nobody knew how big. Now, that future has dimmed a little. It’s still a big film (because any film that crosses $300m is big), but it has a best case scenario of matching the total of the first film. That’s BEST case. The easy path it had in May is gone. Now it’s almost two months into a box office run with a number of films that are going to take away business.

Now, I doubt anyone at Marvel, Paramount, or Disney is complaining. The international receipts are up from the first film, albeit not by a great amount (superheroes don’t tend to play nearly as well overseas), so they are looking at an overall improvement.

Next year they’ve got Thor hitting in early May and Captain America in July. The Avengers hits in May of 2012. And all of these are ushered in by a pair of $300m earners that have gotten high marks from audiences and critics.

But mightn’t they be a little worried? Thor and Cap don’t have the exceptionally high profile figure of Robert Downey Jr. to lead the film. So what sort of numbers are they looking at? They can’t bank on a break-out like IM1, so are they thinking that these are $250m films? $200m?

And what about The Avengers? That’s a huge wild card. On one hand, it’s going to play like a second sequel to Iron Man. But second sequels don’t tend to do as well as the first. This is especially the case if the first sequel is seen as a step down from the original. Look at the Matrix, Pirates, or Shrek films. All had a very well received original, huge explosion of business for the sequel, and then rather large drop-off for the third. Iron Man might be in the same boat, except it hasn’t seen the explosion of business.

That could be another point of concern: Perhaps the first film saturated the market. Anyone who was interested in any superhero besides Batman or Spider-Man saw it so there’s no room to grow. There’s only room to shrink.

There’s another possible problem. One criticism levied against IM2 is that it spent too much time building the universe at the expense of the story of the film itself. There were seeds planted for Thor and the Avengers that didn’t feel quite necessary to tell the story at hand. What if non-comic fan audiences don’t care about that stuff? What if it’s actually a detriment?

Next year the two films released are sure to play into those Marvel Universe elements. Hell, Captain America even has the Avengers connection right in the title. If those elements aren’t going to play well, this could be a well-intentioned but unfortunately doomed experiment.

And Joss Whedon’s Avengers film will probably be yet another in his long string of disappointments.

You can be sure that on the other side of the business, DC/WB is keeping a close eye to see what happens while they’re gearing up to produce Flash, Wonder Woman, and new Superman films. If the universe element doesn’t play, you won’t be seeing a JLA movie any time soon, no matter how well Green Lantern does.

And if The Avengers bombs, no worries. Batman 3 is going to hit a couple months later.

The Beauty of Comments

I don’t get many comments here on goddOS.net. That makes sense, since this blog is new, not very active, and probably only read by close friends and such. Still, a few people seem to have come across various posts for whatever reason.

Yesterday one gentleman found my review of Rock Band in which I take a very unfavorable eye towards Coheed & Cambria. Initially, I wasn’t going to release them, but upon consideration I should. I should also respond to them. So, he’s going to get the FJM treatment.

Ok… so, what I just read… was that a review?

Yes. Yes, it was.

It seemed more like an attack.

Admittedly, it’s a biased review. It’s an emotional review. It’s a review from my perspective and response to the music. It’s a personal opinion. But it’s not an attack. It is not an attempt to damage the members of Coheed and Cambria, at least no more than any other critical review. If I wanted to attack them I’d use, I dunno, a laser sword or something.

It also seems to me that you must spend a little too much time sitting at your computer or playing that beloved RB (it is awesome, I’ll admit it).

You forgot that I’m in my mom’s basement.

Coheed and Cambria are a hugely succesfull band, not just in album sales (over 1.5 million stateside alone)

He’s correct in this. They had an album go gold, and then the first Good Apollo album went platinum. That does mean that they’ve sold at least 1.5 million copies. HOWEVER it’s worth noting that the second Good Apollo album, even after over six months in release, has just managed about 150,000 sales, a significant step down from the previous album. Worldwide it’s sitting a bit over 300k. These are fine numbers, and indicative of success, but let’s be clear, it’s not setting the world on fire.

but as a live act as well, selling out venues of sizes ranging from mid-size clubs to arenas and amphitheaters.

I can’t confirm or deny this. It’s probably true. Is it a valid point, though? I don’t think so, but more on that below.

While I’m not the biggest fan of the band (I enjoy the music and story, even Claudio’s vocals… just not a big punk/metal guy) I have to give credit and respect where it’s due.

Fine credit where it’s due: Coheed & Cambria are able to sell music.

Guess what. N’Sync could sell music. No Strings Attached sold over a million copies in a DAY and over two in a week. It sold over 15 million copies total world-wide. As a band, they’ve sold 56 million albums worldwide since 1995 (accepting that they haven’t been together for about half that time.)

And they aren’t even the biggest act in their genre. The Backstreet Boys sold 37 million albums in the US and over 100 million worldwide.

Or from the standpoint of concerts, Coheed & Cambria don’t hold a candle to Miley Cyrus, who’s sold out every show in huge stadiums to the point that she’s increased a recent tour from 55 to 69 dates AND they made a movie out of it just to try and meet demand. That movie, BTW, garnered $31 million in three days, the biggest opening for a film under 1000 theaters. She’s also sold 8 million albums worldwide, and 3 million in the US.

If we’re looking just at the business side of things, Claudio Kilgannon is absolute shit compared to Hannah Montana.

Now my question to you is exactly where the fuck do you get off bashing a band you’ve never listened to outside of one song on a video game and their comics, which you’ve never read.

My criticism of C&C was largely centered on the fact that Welcome Home is an atrocious song. Everything else is extrapolated from that. In order to understand the depth of how bad it was, I needed to research a bit. While that research didn’t extend to finding and buying the comics, online material seems to be fairly comprehensive in establishing that The Amory Wars is a fairly tepid science fiction entry that isn’t establishing anything new.

I can find bad sci-fi very easily, and I don’t need to pay for it.

I imagine you to be a fat, slobby, loser of a guy.

IN MY MOM’S BASEMENT!

I would have been put off by reading this sort of review of anything.

Put off what? Put off giving C&C any money to peddle their at-best-mediocre wares? Then my work here is done.

To keep it short, shut your fucking mouth if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Y’know, I think I’m going to keep talking. How about I go off half-cocked on a rant without taking full consideration for both my own opinion but also the status of that which I am criticizing.

Oh, wait.

Or just shut your fucking mouth… you’ll catch flies.

True story: I once spent a good portion of a family reunion catching flies with my bare hands. Then I taught some younger distant cousins to do the same.

I did wash my hands afterwards.

Arrogant piece of shit.

I have many vices. Arrogance isn’t generally one of them. In fact, I probably have a nearly crippling lack of self-confidence.

Amusingly enough, Mr. Brent C. came back nine minutes later and added more:

Oh and p.s….

Pedantically, it should probably just be P.S. and then “Oh, …”

Also, an ellipse only has three periods. I’m quite curious why both his posts started with a double-ellipse sentence. It’s like he’s gearing up to think about his point.

I just looked up the numbers…

Yay, numbers! I love numbers!

the first five issues of The Amory Wars (which I haven’t read either, I’ll be honest) have sold over 700,000 copies since their beginnings last year

Really? A five issue series moving 700k copies? SURELY I’d have heard about such a stellar-selling series somewhere in all of the comic news I come across. That’s an average of 140,000 copies an issue. Or roughly the same as what Final Crisis #1 sold.

Let me question. Are you seriously suggesting that an independent, non-superhero comic book tie-in to a musical act is selling on par with DC’s top-tier summer event series?

SERIOUSLY?

Well, okay, then.

and have been released as a trade paperback graphic novel.

Correct. I actually saw it in my local comic shop. I cringed.

The first issue of Volume II is due to come out this week

Fair enough. We’ve established that it’s either successful enough to warrant a second series OR that it’s a really big vanity project.

and Hot Topic (that shitty little store in everyone’s mall)

I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Is Hot Topic a shitty store? Or is it successful because it’s everywhere?

has taken 138,000 pre-orders since June.

That’s a lot of pre-orders for a comic book. I’m really doubting them, as well. A search on Amory Wars sales numbers didn’t bring up anything to cooberate this information.

In fact, a check into ICV2’s sales charts for comics and graphic novels shows that in April, the TPB of Amory Wars volume 1 moved about 2500 copies. This is a perfectly respectable number, and shouldn’t be marked as bad. It’s also just for the direct market. Some titles sell considerably better outside comic book stores, but those are usually Naruto and such. Even if I grant that the sales are going to better in bookshops and Hot Topic, I’m not seeing them hit much more than three or four times what the DM moves.

As far as the comic, the fifth issue sold about 6000 copies in the DM in January. This is down from the 10,000 that #1 sold last June. In fact, except for issue 1, all the issues sold around 6k copies. A five issue title that moves 35,000 copies isn’t bad, and for an indie project it’s fine, but it’s not breaking out. Hell, DC Vertigo tends to cancel titles that move so little, because they can’t make their money back.

Again, even if we allow  2-3 times more than that outside the DM (and issues sell considerably worse than TPBs do, comparitively, outside of comic book stores), we’re still not getting into 700,000. We’re not even at 140,000. For the whole series.

For the mathematically deficient: 35,000/700,000 = 5%.

By the available information, we can confirm that The Amory Wars is at least 5% of Brent C.’s claimed success point.

My point is… these guys are highly successful and talented, obviously.

They are successful. I do not debate that. They are not as successful as a number of other musical talents or a number of other comic book talents. If we’re equating their success to an absolute value of their talent, they’re probably firmly middle of the road.

In comparison, Rob Liefeld is an astronomically more talented comic book writer, and N’Sync are significantly better musically.

Hey, it’s not my argument.

In my previous post, I even allowed that there is some musical skill to C&C. That skill doesn’t extend to lyrics or vocals. (And in the intervening time, I’ve come to realize that even as a musical construction, Welcome Home is absolute shit. However, the guys playing the instruments aren’t bad.)

You blog about comics and movies.

I do. And video games. From my mom’s basement.

You talk about the self-injection

Self-insertion. Self-injection sounds like something heroin junkies do.

story line or whatever you called it with such disdain as if you yourself were not suffering from some pretty serious delusions of grandure.

Grandeur. Which, no, I don’t have. Lovely logical fallacy, by the way.

Arrogant piece of shit.

Repetition for the win!

Epic Failure

As the Secret Invasion has begun and we sit on the cusp of the Final Crisis, I’m going to take a step back and look rather hard at the state of (superhero) comics right now. I can’t help but think that the Big Two have really rather missed the whole point. It’s possible that we’re beyond some critical point and the future of comics is well and truly screwed.

I’d like to think differently, but the state of affairs in the two companies is so antithetical to actually being, um, successful.

Secret Invasion is the fourth of Marvel’s annual tie-in event miniseries (after House of M, Civil War, and World War Hulk), and the current culmination of story threads that Brian Michael Bendis has been laying out since Avengers Disassembled. That’s a storyline that’s been going back four years actively, and likely has threads going back even further (depending on what Bendis may have done before he started writing Daredevil and what he wants to mine from Marvel’s past.)

The initial response to the first issue has been fairly positive, indicating that Bendis has delivered the goods and presented what should be an enjoyable story. I expect that, much like the earlier miniseries, a good chunk of the story, and likely a few of the issues in the run, will be given over entirely to super-powered individuals beating the crap out of each other.

The series is going to sell very well. It’s got all the hallmarks of one of the most popular writers in comics (Bendis), a popular artist (Lionel Yu), a strong lead-up advertising campaign, and it’s got all the heavy-hitters from the Marvel U taking part. Fans are (and will) be eating it up.

Final Crisis hasn’t started yet, but it’s the culmination of a storyline that also ostensibly began in 2004 with Identity Crisis and Countdown to Infinite Crisis. While DC hasn’t quite done the annual event series like Marvel has, the leadup to Final Crisis is long. Infinite Crisis in 2005 led directly to the weekly series 52 which led directly to the weekly Countdown (to Final Crisis). There have literally been two years worth of weekly books from the end of the last huge event series to this one.

Expectations are high, but perhaps somewhat mitigated because Countdown has been rather lackluster. However, Final Crisis also has the popular writer (Grant Morrison), popular artist (J.G. Jones), and all the heavy-hitters doing lots of hitting each-other. The advertising campaign has been unsteady (the early ad “Who Lives, Who Dies, What Changes?” was particularly laughable), but ultimately it does seem to have similar promise to Secret Invasion.

Likewise, it’s going to sell well. As a story, it’s likely in good hands. Morrison is possibly the best writer working in the comics medium (at least as far as understanding how it works and how to get the best effect from it), plus he’s got an incredible love for superhero history. His bibliography is littered with stories he’s done that reference small forgotten tidbits from the past. I’d not be at all surprised if he somehow manages to tie in a number of such into the story here.

So we’ve got two high profile series, with high profile creators, doing big things with the big characters in big ways. Sales are guaranteed. The biggest question is which of the two is going to be bigger. (Marvel tends to be a big stronger in monthly sales, and Bendis is a bit more popular, currently, than Morrison, so I’d bank on Secret Invasion.) So what’s the problem?

The problem is who’s reading these things. Or rather, who isn’t.

Among the comic crowd, these are the sort of books that “everyone” will be picking up. Fans (or fanboys, really) who have been keyed into the Big Two for years and are keeping apace with all the nuances and hints dropped.

In short, these are books that are going to be lapped up by the current readership.

For everyone else, though, they’re a bit opaque.

And that’s a problem. These are the two highest profile series of the year. And they’re not being written at all for the potential fan. Even worse, said fan is likely to be completely confused if dropped into these.

The friendly staffer at my chosen comic shop has pointed out that Marvel has constructed Secret Invasion such that you don’t need to read any tie-in books to get the story (which was also the case for the three previous annual events). This may very well be true, but there’s still a fair bit of knowledge to even get the story.

Note this post by a comic newbie. While she finally, reading through it, gets’ the core CONCEPT of Secret Invasion (it’s a big series to get everyone together), she’s still rather lost on the whole: “As an outsider reading this, I felt just like that: an outsider.”

Marvel’s biggest book of the year, and it’s alienating to new readers. I really hope I’m not the only person who sees a problem with this. Hell, it’s practically designed to be offputting to the casual reader.

While I’m overall more optimistic about Final Crisis, largely because Morrison is a significantly better writer than Bendis, I’m only feeling good as the experienced comic fan. Were I a newcomer, I’d probably feel as lost and confused as the lady who wrote the aforementioned post. It’s a superhero prom, and there’s a whole year or two of schoolwork that needs to be done before you can go.

This isn’t new. Ever since the rise of the event miniseries (and crossover stories) in the mid-to-late 80s, and the coinciding rise of the direct market, the comic industry has been moving along a path that’s more insular and self-referential. There have been positive blips here and there, but by and large the big two have continued to cater increasingly towards the extant fans rather than actively encourage new fans.

The companies might disagree with this, citing the lines such as Marvel Adventures, Ultimate Marvel, and Johnny DC, but the fact is that the bulk of their advertising and energy is dedicated to the core lines.

(Marvel may Ultimate Line might be an exception, but after eight years, it’s carrying a fair amount of baggage of its own. While it may only have a few ongoing books, it is at the point where knowledge of the history is fairly critical to understanding the actions in a given book. Additionally, while Ultimate Spider-Man may still be appealing and aimed at a newcomer market, the other Ultimate books are very uneven in tone comparatively. If I were introducing someone to Ultimate Spider-Man, I’d be a bit concerned if that person later picked up the Ultimates and found a horny Hulk wanting to eat Freddie Prinze Jr. It just doesn’t mesh.)

That’s really a shame, because the two junior lines are chock full of some fantastic comic material. DC’s recent Tiny Titans is wonderful, a book of sheer joy that I’ve not experienced outside of Azuma’s Yotsuba&. And anything Jeff Parker writes for Marvel Adventures distills superheroic action down to its core principles without requiring a huge backstory. In DC’s case, these junior books are largely tie ins to the phenomenally successful (and usually very well written) animated series, but

Of course, once you venture into the main universes, there’s a slippery slope between the good and the tied in. Any book that demonstrates an ability to sell due to strong internal quality will invariably be given a crossover with another book to try and get some readers to try both. Conversely, any book that has strong internal quality but isn’t selling will get a crossover with another, more popular book to try and boost its sales.

Historically, neither case is likely to make the book better, or even keep it at the current level. The recent crossover between Checkmate and Outsiders showcases this extremely well. The quality for the storyline was well below the previous Checkmate stories. (Admittedly, it was a step up from previous Outsiders stories.)

Arguably, the crossovers aren’t likely to boost flagging sales in either direction. Indeed, it can backfire and cause a loss of fans. Many years ago, I was an avid Birds of Prey reader, but over one six month period I was greeted by four different crossover issues in two different Batman storylines. I had little interest in reading any other books in the line except Catwoman, and decided that BoP wasn’t worth it. (It took Gail Simone to get me back, and even that wasn’t immediate.)

This isn’t to say that all crossovers are bad. Sometimes a story can be constructed to gain the benefits of multiple books. But the reality is that most of these are marketing gimmicks. Designed to get the existing fans to buy as many different titles as possible, in hopes that they will keep buying said titles.

The miniseries event works much the same way. Many books in the company’s line will be tied into it in some fashion. Marvel did this brilliantly, from a marketing standpoint, with Civil War: well emblazoned logo across all titles showing that each book took part in this mega-event.

However, where does this leave the casual fan? What is one to do if there’s only one or two titles, out of the entire line, that appeal at all? The event has large ramifications that aren’t readily apparent. Sure, there’s the chance the reader could buy into the whole shebang and crossover to being a big fan, but that’s not likely.

If a newcomer starts in on comics, without familiarity, how do you introduce them? What books do you showcase?

More than likely, you might be showing them something from Marvel Adventures. Good books, sure, but they may get the distinct sense that they’re not catered to. And the industry isn’t constructed to get them to transition to the main lines. Some books are for kids and casual readers, the rest are for the fans who’ve been here for 20 years (and are shrinking as a group.)

Welcome to the recipe for disaster.

For long term growth (or at least sustainability), it would be more beneficial if books were allowed to live on their own terms, without the event tie-ins and crossovers. If the standalone fun of the Marvel Adventures were allowed to exist in the main universes.

It’s not likely. There’s a cycle of incestuous support to the industry. Fans buy into the big events, which boost sales numbers at the expense of smaller books, so the companies produce more of such work, which appeals to the fans, but not anyone else. And any smaller books are likely to be folded as the sales droop, which loses more fans.

I’m not saying that ALL events are bad. Marvel’s Annihilation was a brilliant story. But it succeeded largely because it was entirely self-contained. The mini-series involved only related to each-other. Likewise, Seven Soldiers of Victory was incredibly enjoyable. Both of these stories managed to provide the epic wonders that all events promise, without intruding on other books in the line, even though the effects of the stories could be felt elsewhere.

While such things could happen more, I’m not optimistic. I fully expect that next year we’ll be talking about the next big Marvel Event. Trinity will be coming to a close and DC will be pumping the next weekly series which will lead into another big event series. It’s a shame, because in that time, a number of highly enjoyable books with marginal numbers will be canceled.

After a while, these stop being epics. They just become epic failures.

Continuity Dreams and Nightmares

In the wake of the ongoing travesties of that are happening on both sides of the superhero aisle (OMD’s destruction of anything resembling a comprehensible sequence of events at Marvel and the Eternal Crisis at DC), I’ve been giving a fair bit of thought to continuity and writers.

Continuity is a tricky thing. For a good 40 years or so, it didn’t matter a whole lot. Arguably, the entire period between the end of WWII and the start of the silver age, it didn’t matter at all. Even after that into the early 80s, it remained a rather mutable concept. Sure, there was cause and effect, but the concept of continuity that spanned the entire line of books didn’t quite grab hold.

Starting in the 80s, though, a number of things happened. The X-Men began to sell like gangbusters, which prompted a number of related books. With Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, the concept of the universe-spanning mini-series was discovered and with it the tie-in. Soon after, the crossover was established.

The crossover and the mini-series established the key ingredients that thrust our lovable comics into the 90s and continue, more or less, to be the key for any large sales to this day. Certainly nearly every major storyline of the past fifteen years has been one or the other, if not both. For some characters with multiple tiles, crossovers are often more the rule rather than the exception (I’m looking firmly at you, Spidey and Bats.)

The natural upshot is that the books need to have some related consistency. If Latte Lady breaks a nail in The Nifty Nailbiters, then by golly that better remain true in The Stupendous Seat-edgers. If Awesome Man dies in his own title, his best friend the Dimly Lit Intimidator may need to know about it in his own.

This rising integration in continuity has a lot of benefits. From a storytelling perspective, there’s a whole lot of options that open up when a writer can start taking part in a bigger sandbox. Stories that would be too big for a single title can now be told. If the Nailbiters and Awesome Man team up but need to split up to do separate objectives, then those can be handled in their own series, at the same time. This ability to tell multiple story strands at the same time, leading towards some ultimate conclusion allows superhero stories to massively increase in depth.

More than that, the crossover, especially, is a boon to business. If you’ve got a strong character who sells well every month, you can always have her show up in a few other books now and then, but have her title cross over with those books, and you could get the readers of each to try the other and possibly stick around.

Amazing stuff, these crossovers. Personally, some of my fondest memories of comics are when I read Uncanny X-Men in the late 80s and I really got into the mutant books with Inferno. It wasn’t enough to just read X-Men. I also had to read X-Factor to understand what was going on. And to find out what happened to Colossus, I needed to read New Mutants. As it happens, I stayed with all three books for a good long time. Inferno was clearly successful, enough that the mutant books especially began to feature them every year or two for the next decade or so.

Plus, there’s a decided advantage to telling a story that is too big for one creator. You can have multiple viewpoints, multiple people working together to create something that could be greater than the sum of its parts.

But there’s a number of downsides. While it’s great that a story could have multiple layers and interweaving plot points, all too often it comes out to be a bit messy, with contradicting elements, missed characterization, and things that just don’t make sense. In the mini-series, it’ll often come about that there are so many characters showing up that few, if any, of them get enough space to really shine and act as they should.

Plus, the bigger the story, the more far-reaching the effects, and thus the greater need for editorial oversight, which leads to more controlled and constrained writers. In essence, the scope of these projects tends to stifle creativity, even if the event itself turns out to be pretty good.

On the business-side, there’s the converse of the event getting readers to try another title. What if, instead of the crossover getting readers to hop on board both books, they instead decide that neither title is worth the effort and jump ship entirely. I read Birds of Prey rather faithfully from the beginning, but the number of crossovers that happened with other Batman titles essentially gave me a choice. I didn’t have the money or desire to follow every Bat-title, so I could either continue with it and be thoroughly confused as to what happened between issues, or I could stop entirely.

I’m not really inclined to write off the big event entirely, but there needs to be a degree of moderation. DC’s 3+ year continuity project has made me leery of trying out new titles, and I’ve tended to try and follow ones that are reasonably likely to remain unaffected and alone. On the Marvel side, I’ve found that Civil War has killed just about any interest I ever had in following The Avengers and any character related to them.

However, the smaller-scale events have worked out fine. Annihilation was just about the most enjoyable story I’ve read in years, and I’m waiting to see what the Sinestro Corps storyline is like once it hits the trades. It’s possible to do an event, but there just needs to be some consideration against doing too much.

And, as One More Day has shown, editorial mandate isn’t good for anything. The writers generally need to have some freedom to explore and get creative with the characters. Dictating that the writers must do x and y and keep in tap with all the other titles running leads to problems, because, by and large, most comic writers cannot or will not be able to handle that sort of overhead on their books. There are some, but they’re few and far between.

I could probably trust Grant Morrison to handle just about any continuity issues. Kurt Busiek, too. If only because of his comments regarding One More Day, JMS seems like he’d be up to the task. And possibly Mark Waid. However, we’re talking about four men out of tens of professional comic writers who are adept enough to write a story that fits into continuity while also changing it. This is an extremely limited skill that very few possess.

Geoff Johns and Keith Giffen might be able to, but they also seem to shine best when they’re given a section of a universe to play with. Preferably a cosmic one or (in Giffen’s case) a comedic one.

I’m not going to criticize writers who don’t do this. While I’d trust Morrison to handle such a task (and Final Crisis likely will be), some of my other favorite comic writers probably couldn’t. I don’t think Brian Vaughan could (he’s a bit gun-shy when handling characters he doesn’t create.) Nor Brian Wood. Warren Ellis probably could, but his disdain for the conventions of the superhero genre makes me question whether it’d work. Gail Simone, The Best Writer in Superhero Books, might not be up to it, but I’m curious to see how she’d fare if given the chance.

The problem is that despite the obvious way that Big Continuity causes problems for the individual writers, it’s become this massive driving force from both within (editorial) and without (the fans.) On the inside, it’s this stifling way of sucking the fun and creativity out of any story, even if it’s something that should be as fun as superheros kicking the shit out of each other (see exhibit 1: Civil War). On the outside, it’s the promise that if anything doesn’t quite work, the fan community is going to jump all over it.

I’ve found myself questioning my resolve and desire to keep up on things. Conceptually, the Big Event is awesome. In theory, it should be great. But in theory, communism works. In practice, there’s those few events that actually work (Annihilation), more that are just kinda meh (Infinite Crisis), and still more that just kinda numb my whole brain when I start to think about them (Civil War, Countdown, One More Day).

What I’ve been left with is a desire to just find those select few things that are actually good. I’ll follow specific writers around, check out those titles which are remaining consistently strong, and just keep abreast as I can.

It’s a shame, because I’ve had my time as a continuity nut, digging how all those threads relate and create a stronger story. But the DC fan in me has spent the past three years hearing that if I just keep going a bit longer, everything will fit together and make sense. Sure, it’s possible Grant Morrison will actually do that in Final Crisis, but what if it’s just a precursor. After the next couple of weekly series, what if there actually IS an Eternal Crisis? And in 2012, will I be eagerly anticipating Gail Simone’s Crisis Forever?

Over at Marvel, I’m left wondering what’s good. Civil War is a black stain, from which there’s very little to redeem. One More Day has just told me that anything I could have cared about can be whisked away. And I really can’t get up the interest in Secret Invasion. Bendis isn’t a writer I have a lot of faith in to handle multiple heroes. A small number, with deeply personal stories, possibly a lot of crime, sure. Teams? His track record is lacking. Disassembled was almost as bad as Civil War, and House of M was unfortunately little more than a compelling Elseworlds idea.

On the other hand, I suppose I can thank Joe Quesada for teaching me to stop caring. At the House of Ideas, it’s clear that few, if any, ideas are going to do much more than cause a temporary hiccup to the status quo.

Because of that, I’m going to take a new view on continuity. I call it the Current Writer theory. Basically, continuity on a title or character only matters inasmuch as it matters to the current writer. If they want to delve deep into the backstory and pick out little elements here and there to build up the richness, so much the better. If they just want to tell stories in the here and now, fine.

What would be grand, though, is if everything was free reign. If a writer could come in, figure out how to make all the pieces fit, or at least some of them, and just tell that story, then move onto the next.

What if… what if EVERYTHING was true?

Oh, yeah. DC tried that. About ten years ago.

When Good Games Go Bad

This post is about Rock Band, which has eaten up a not inconsequential portion of my free time of late.  Despite the title of the post, I have few complaints about the game. It is not quite the best game ever made, but there is such a depth of play there and the promise of continuing DLC means it should remain as such for quite some time.

Review in brief: Bravo Harmonix!  There are few missteps here.

This post is also about comic books. And with that there are probably a few who will understand where I am going with this.

As  I said above, there are few missteps. Before I had the chance to play Rock Band, due to being geographically away from my venue of choice from its release until after the new year, I made do with Guitar Hero III, the slightly off-kilter third sibling of Rock Band’s predecessor franchise. While there are many problems with GHIII, there are two things it does very well. Those two things, I must say, find Rock Band lacking.

The first is the peripheral construction. While I have few things bad to say about the previous controllers, the GHIII Les Pauls are a thing of beauty. The action is smooth, the weight is good, and they are all around comfortable to play.  In comparison the Fender Stratocasters that come with RB are, to be polite, very cheap feeling. Beyond the well documented breakdowns and other troubles, the guitars do not have that sense of strength, beginning with the action on the frets and being most noticeable with the weak strum bar.

The second is the way hammer ons and pull offs were changed in GHIII. In the first Guitar Hero, I found them impossible. In the second, they were troublesome, but on occasion would work as expected. Neversoft decided to make them even more forgiving such that it feels rather fun to get them rather than a difficult gamey element. It is perhaps one area where choosing to go for a less realistic method of doing the music turned out for the better.

However, both these are beside the real point. In spite of these problems, Rock Band shines, even when it causes me problems. I tend to play bass, and while I’ve been playing above my head on some songs at Expert level, jamming with my friends is fun for a long time.

The song selection is very good. I could probably play Learn to Fly and Here it Goes Again many, many times without getting tired of them. I may slowly be growing to dislike Sabotage because of the difficulty and repetitiveness of the bassline, but it’s still a fun song to listen to. Run to the Hills and Green Grass on High Tides may both give me problems for a while, but it’s a nice challenge to try and beat them.

As with the Guitar Hero games, it’s nice to get the combination of songs I know and like to go with some I didn’t expect but find I also like.

But nothing’s perfect. Guitar Hero II brought me Psychobilly Freakout, which isn’t enjoyable to listen to and even less fun to play. Guitar Hero gave me No One Knows, which almost soured me on Queens of the Stone Age for life. In III I found Raining Blood, which combined all the worst elements of a repetitive punk song with the off-kilter timing of Institutionalized.

In each, I am brought to wonder why the designers felt the need to include this song in the game. With QotSA, I can at least say the song sounds nice (and in their favor, other songs are more enjoyable), and probably could feel the desire to keep chugging at it just because of that. What’s really bad is when there is a song that is no fun to play because I don’t want to listen to it.

While I was unable to play Rock Band due to my geographic non-proximity, my roommates did give me a bit of a running tally on how things went. The only mentioned one blight, one song that they would not, could not, play. A song so bad and annoying they’d skip it no matter what.

Curious, I checked the song out on Youtube. For the first thirty seconds, it doesn’t seem that bad. Some fairly neat instrumental introductions, hitting a nice hard rock groove. I could start to get along with that.

And then the vocals start. I swear I had to shut the window within seconds they were so bad. I honestly wondered what sort of people could choose to subject themselves to this regularly. It wasn’t just a weak singer, it was honestly a bad voice to use as a vocalist.

I wondered if it was just me (and my roommates) but after a bit of checking around with others, no, the song really is that bad and I wasn’t able to find anyone in my circle of friends who could stand to listen to the whole thing. I shrugged, chalked it up to a misstep in song choice, and forgot about it until I got home.

While playing through Rock Band, though, I began to get curious. It was certainly possible that we’d get the song on random, and it’d help  to have at least passing familiarity with it. So I started to look into this blighted song again.

I’m speaking about Coheed and Cambria’s Welcome Home. And in the interest of fairness, I will list its strengths. As a progressive/hard rock band, C&C has talent. They play well, have some good riffs and rhythms, and could probably be an enjoyable band.

On the other hand, the vocals are atrocious. Singer Cladio Sanchez has a high pitched voice, which isn’t a problem alone, but he’s also got a thin and weedy timbre. There’s very little depth. To make matters worse, his vocal range (judging from Welcome Home at least) is very narrow. So there’s a high-pitched screeching that extends through most of the song.

It kills just about any interest I have in listening.

Of course, the problems don’t end there. Welcome Home is from the album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. And no matter how many times I look at that, it does not make sense. The words look like English, but there is no meaning.

Apparently, this isn’t abnormal for C&C. Their subsequent album is called Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow. I’m really not sure what the title is supposed to imply, except to give off some vague sci-fi reference. This used to be common in music. David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars for instance. However there’s a big difference. The title of Bowie’s album makes sense. It is a cohesive title that doesn’t have a random string of works and numerals together.

In my searching, though, it seems that C&C is not inspired by sci-fi. Their albums are apparently directly tied into an ongoing science fiction epic being written by the aforementioned vocalist, Claudio Sanchez. I admit I haven’t read, nor do I have any desire to read, the works he’s put out, but I’ve tried to piece together the series.

Coheed and Cambria’s music ties into a series of comic books called The Amory Wars. The name of the band is taken from two characters in this series Coheed Kilgannon and Cambria Kilgannon. They have a son who seems to be a sort of messianic character who must accept his mantle and face off against the Big Bad to avenge Coheed and Cambria’s murders.

All right. That’s fairly uninspired for sci-fi, but given that C&C are (presumably) musicians first, it’s probably not too big of an issue. I could even ignore the original title for The Amory Wars: The Bag.On.Line Adventures. Please notice all the periods in place of spaces. I suppose it might be a reference to the same in a hypertext link, but really it just looks dumb. Even so, the title was changed to something a bit more run of the mill but that also makes considerable more sense.

So, we’ve got this hero character, Claudio Kilgannon,  who…

Wait, what? That name seems really familiar. Hero named Claudio written by singer/writer named… Claudio?

And here’s where the wheels start to come off. As best I can tell, The Amory Wars is a massive self-insert story. If it isn’t, I’d have assumed that Mr. Sanchez could have come up with a different name. Or, hell, just coming up with a different name would perhaps mask the fact that it’s a self-insert story.

There are two major problems with self-inserts. The first is one of balance. As anyone who’s read fanfiction for any length of time knows, by and large, self-insert characters are favored by the writer to such a degree that any other characters (usually those belonging in the original universe) tend to be overshadowed. Lots of power, luck, skill, charisma, what have you. These characters will display any number of these traits in such a degree that it stretches credibility.

The classic self-insert is the Mary Sue, which comes from Star Trek. It got the name because the editors of the novels could almost always disregard 90% of the manuscripts they received because they would invariably have a new, female character who graduated at or near the top of her class in Starfleet Academy, proved to be a popular addition to the Enterprise crew, would have a romantic liaison with the favored male character of the author’s choice, and would prove to be critical in solving the climax of the story.  These novels were almost always submitted by women. And while they may not have been atrociously bad, the fact that they resembled each-other to such a degree is staggering and leads one to disregard them as a whole. Thus, the Mary Sue character: the self-insert.

In and of themselves, self-inserts are power fantasies and not problematic. However, they are almost invariably stories written for the author, not for the audience. I’ve heard that in BDSM culture, there’s a saying of Your Kink is not My Kink. Here it’s that Your Power Fantasy is not My Power Fantasy.

By and large, I am not going to be interested in a story about some messianic character based on you. There are a few people in the world about whom I would find such a story interesting, and many of my friends are not those people. The further you get away from me, and the more it becomes a “You had to be there” situation. Do I understand this power fantasy? No, I don’t get why you should be cast as a world savior.

And thus, The Amory Wars have already lost me. They may be a fine piece of juvenile science fiction that Claudio Sanchez has written for himself. His friends may dig that he’s such a creative machine, but I don’t get why his stories are in my video games, ruining my ears.

It seems that the only published parts of the story are a bit of chapters two and four (of five). The music may add a bit more completeness, but on the whole it seems that there’s just a bunch of inspiration around a plot that isn’t quite enough to carry the story from Sanchez’ mind to the theoretical public. Telling a story out of chronology should be a technique to use, not come about by happenstance.

Not that that would be entirely bad, I’m none too sure that his grasp of language is any better than his grasp of storytelling technique. Just the title of the album is enough to cause concern. I’m not really sure if it’ll ever be completed, but given that Sanchez has had to self-publish so far, I doubt it’s going to set the world on fire if it ever does.

Now, I did say this was about Rock Band, so I’ll turn to the specific song that’s caused me no end of pain.

Welcome Home is one of the first few tracks off the album where, if I’m  reading this correctly, the story takes a step outside of the strict narrative and is instead narrated by The Writer in the first person. Since Sanchez is the writer, I can only assume he’s talking about himself, in some fashion.

So now we’ve got him singing, and writing, about himself as the writer of a story which is about a messianic version of himself.

Whoa, meta. This could almost be good.

Let’s see what the writer, I mean The Writer has to say:

You could have been all I wanted
But you weren’t honest
Now get in the ground
You choked off the short list of favors
But if you really loved me
You would have endured my will

Wow. That seems kinda dark and bleak.  Continuing on:

Well if you’re just as I presumed
A whore in sheep’s clothing
Fucking up all I do
And if it’s here we stop
Then never again
Will you see this in your life?

So, there’s some anger here. It seems he’s gotten burned romantically and is holding a bit of a grudge. I can understand being a bit bummed from a letdown, but let’s look at the language here.

There’s a lot of dominance and command in the voice. Talk of enduring his will, ordering to get into the ground. He’s also placing the unnamed woman as the downside of the virgin/whore dichotomy. She wasn’t honest, therefore she must be a whore! She’s fucking up everything for him.

It’s all her fault!

This really bugs me. Ignoring how confused I am how this fits into the whole sci-fi story above, this is hugely misogynistic. It doesn’t get any better as the song continues, with more threats of violence and painting the still unnamed female as a traitor to him.

I’ll grant that there may be some separation between Sanchez, The Writer, and Claudio Kilgannon, but the first person narrative here and general negativity towards women just sicken me. Even if his voice wasn’t so bad, the message is so squicky that I really don’t want to know more.

What’s funny is that this song alone answers the question about whether C&C are a prog metal band or an emo band. The sexism, lamenting about romance, and general whinyness plant it firmly in the camp of Emo. It’s not good emo, either.

And that’s really a shame, because, as I noted above, C&C do seem to have some musical talent. I think that, in a different setting, with a different front-man, the people involved could be rather enjoyable. They could go and pull an Audioslave. That’s what made RATM palatable to me.

Rock Band will survive. I think I’ll play the song the bare minimum and hope it doesn’t inflict itself upon me while I’m playing.

Shame, though. It’s a strike against Harmonix. Upon reflection, it bugs me a lot more than the shoddy guitar quality.

JLA #15 review

Reading the latest issue of Justice League of American (#15), I was struck by how dissonant it seemed.

On one hand, we’ve got Dwayne McDuffie’s script, which is another step in moving the comic from the completely forgettable Meltzer run to something that’s palatable. The story isn’t great. This is a light issue, without much in the way of plot details (in fact, it very specifically dovetails into two other titles at the end, without resolution), but it’s got some kinda fun rock-em, sock-em action going on.

It’s also got moments of The Sexy going on. The girls are doing the cool shits, and whooping baddies all around. Not so much for the damsels in distress, here. We’ve got proactive heroines doing the right thing.

Sexy.

On the other hand, we’ve got Ed Benes’ art, which has taken another step in moving the book towards an ass-shot in every panel (and, depending on how limber he makes the portrayed character, tits as well). In this issue, the art is almost overwhelmingly, objectifyingly sexist, to the point that about halfway through (and this is just a 22-page story, mind), I began to feel a bit numb from the whole thing.

So, page by page:

Page 1 is remarkably sans-ass! Of course it’s sans female. Luthor has Superman at his whim until Firestorm turns a bunch of kryptonite into a butterknife. I sat for a moment and wondered about this reverse-alchemy. How much money did Luthor lose in that moment? Kryptonite’s got to be one of the rarest minerals in the universe, and he just transposed it to common steel, probably not even stainless or a good alloy. We’re looking at a loss of a few million, easy, probably a few billion.

Of course, I’m also wondering, why the hell Luthor, with nearly uncountable sums of wealth, would use it to create a kryptonite knife to stab Superman with? Surely his evil genius could come up with something with more, dare I say it, panache?

From the expressions on Luthor’s face, he might just be realizing how much money he’s lost here.

Page 2. Splash of all the villains in this short-lived Injustice League. Is it just me, or are these a bunch of serene-looking baddies? Seriously, they’re about to (try) to whoop some ass. And most of them, even the guys, just look kinda mildly amused.

Hell, Cheshire, Poison Ivy, Fatality, and Giganta all have the exact same expression. This expression says to me “I’m listening to music and this song brought a thought of an amusing little anecdote about what happened on the way to work.” not “Hoo, yeah, We’re about to TOTALLY wail on Superman and Firestorm!”

And Ivy’s stance is just completely wrong, too. She’s getting ready to fight! Not waiting at the bus stop while listing to her iPod! Also, what’s up with her crotch? It’s brighter than the rest of that region and perhaps kinda puffy. I’d be a bit worried about that. She should see a doctor.

Cheshire’s a bit better. Confident, fists on hips. See, right there her eyes should be narrow, focused. Mouth pressed into a thin, determined line. Expression just blaring “Hey, superheroes! I’m the deadliest assassin on the face of the planet. I have figuratively (and in one case literally) fucked you over for YEARS. Another serving coming up!”

Cheetah’s at least got the readiness down. Somewhat ruined by her stance. Okay, let’s try this. You’re about to charge into a fight. Stand up and get ready. Pretend you have claws and are kinda fast and strong, too. Me? I’m going to have my weight centered, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width with one slightly in front of the other. Hunched over slightly with a slight lean forwards. Arms tucked, hands slightly in and in front of my chest. Perhaps right be low neck level.

I am fucking NOT going to have my hand down and elbows out. There’s no power in that, no way to get some force into my strikes. Plus, I’m leaving my central area WIDE open for a quick attack.

What’s more, my legs are not going to be leaning towards one side with my weight awkwardly thrust backwards and then leaning my torso forward. Again, no strength, nothing to get any power out of. And I’d be off-balance in case of quick counter.

All this seems to say is “I’m angry! Look at my ass!”

Icicle doesn’t seem so bad, mostly because she’s already in motion. She’s going forward with her attack, but I’m a bit mystified by why her right arm is down and away.

So for the good side of the womens, we’ve got Cheetah’s expression, Cheshire’s stance, and Icicle’s movement. The rest is a bunch of bad.

On the men side, they’re not that much better, except nobody’s really thrusting attributes out for no good reason.

I do rather like the effeminate-Joker, though.

Page 3. Look at this first panel. We’ve got Firestorm, facing off against the baddies. Look at the sides. Deathstroke and Dr Light are cool, confident, working in some entrapment of power.

In the center, nearly even against Firestorm is Luthor, looking really pissed. That’s quite a change from his slightly bemused expression on page 2. How much time has passed here?

And there’s Ivy, coquettishly bored at the antics of all these mammals. Icicle is still continuing her mad charge. Her pose isn’t too bad. Now you can see her right arm is, since now she’s using that instead of her left to move her ice stream. Her left is a bit far away, but could be ready to fling an attack from that angle, discus style.

Cheetah has squared up her stance, but her arms are way out and low. Plus, now her upper-arms look like sticks. Dr Light, of all people, has forearms the size of her waist, and she’s got toothpicks.

There’s something else that bugs me, here. Look at the position of the bad guys here and on page 2.

On 2, we’ve got, L-R: Luthor, Ivy, some fuzzy guy I want to call Mammoth, but probably isn’t, Dr Light, Deathstroke, Mr Freeze, Giganta, some dark guy, Fatality, Cheshire, Cheetah, Icicle, Grodd, and Joker. (in a few layers. since apparently they’re standing on risers for a better picture)

And here we’ve got Dr Light on the far left with icicle behind him, who’s apparently whipped around to the complete other side of the group. Then there’s Ivy and the dark guy, who’s much forward and to the left of his current position. Luthor and not-Mammoth are now in the center. Grodd and Cheetah have about the same positions, but Deathstroke has magically teleported to the far right. Joker, Cheshire, Freeze, Fatality, and Giganta are nowhere to be seen.

So what happened? Again, how much time has passed so the villains can array themselves out in the proper line? And if that’s the case, why aren’t they attacking? Luthor said that Superman would only survive for another 30 seconds.

Firestorm talks for a bit while Icicle takes the first stab at cooling him down. Nice attack, but the way she’s got her knee bent is really weird. Dr Light adds to the fire and then we’ve got all the bad-guys hit by a mysterious green pallor.

Page 4-5. The superheroes arrive! And thankfully, they are all ready to kick ass. Except for Red Tornado, who is doing his rendition of C-3P0 in Cloud City.

Let’s look at expressions. Guys first: Batman is pissed. Red Arrow is even angrier (I can only assume he’s finally realizing how dumb his new code name really is.) John Stewart is getting into full-on USMC-mode. Which is amazing, since that’s an entirely different continuity. Geo-Force is rubbing off a bit of manly blood from his face. His expression says “Okay, you got me one. Now it’s my turn.”

For the gals, it’s not quite the same. Clenched teeth, perhaps, but only slightly. Those cheeks aren’t tightened up at all. In some fashion, Hawkgirl, Vixen, and Wonder Woman all look somewhat angry. Black Canary, though, just looks kinda there. Her lips are a bit pouty, face kinda slack, and eyes looking a bit vacantly off into the distance.

She’s the leader, remember.

Poses talk!

Batman: I am just getting out of these bindings. Then I will start to hit you a lot.

Red Arrow: God, where the fuck is Brad Meltzer so I can shoot him for saddling me with this name?

Green Lantern: You took your best shot! Now its our turn.

Geo-Force: Not bad. But not good enough, bad-guys. I can hit harder than you.

Vixen: Let me start to punch from WAY in the back! Honest, I’m not telegraphing anything!

Hawkgirl: Hey, Cheetah! I can do that same exact stance! Except I don’t have claws.

Woder Woman: Look at my lasso! And tits! Hey, I might be able to do a sorta-jab from here!

Black Canary: I have a fist! And also a butt! And tits! Do you like my 90s-era X-Men Jacket? Wait, why am I facing in the general direction of Red Tornado! I’ll look over at that wall! Or perhaps the ceiling!

From this point forth, the art in the issue becomes asstastic. In fact, it’s like Butt Cleavage: The Movie, starring Dinah Lance.

Page 6. Dinah attempts to be the leader by issuing the very specific order of “Take them down hard.” Generic, sure, and what they were already going to do, but some have said that a good leader only needs to see what the followers were going to do anyway and to get out in front.

She screams. Good use of her powers for a pre-emptive strike. Bad use of her costume for showing us her butt. Canary rebukes Firestorm for trying to be too cute. Icicle, Cheshire, and Cheetah try to fight. Mr. Freeze and Deathstroke cut and run.

Wonder Woman shows off the butt-cleavage of her own, before…

Page 7. Wondy takes out Icicle.

Hawkgirl and Red Arrow flirt.

Cheshire gets away, but not before looking back and thrusting her ass back for one last provocation.

Page 8. However, Roy is an idiot and didn’t see it. Geez, man! After all the work that went into that and you had to miss it? What do you think these women are here for anyway?

Cheetah has Black Lightning at her mercy, but seems to be unsure of how to hold him. Her hands move around with every panel, which leads me to believe she really doesn’t know about submission techniques.

Then again, she’s barely got him held at all. In panel 3, it’s like she’s gently caressing his head. Must not want to wake him up I suppose. However, she says she’s going to rip his throat out. If that’s the case, I’d expect her to, I dunno, actually hold onto his throat?

Oh, well, he wakes up anyway and shocks her! Crisis averted.

Amazingly, as she’s flung back from the attack, her butt does not lead the way. However, it can’t be that bad, because while she’s squinting in pain, her mouth is in the exact same, slightly angry, smooth-cheeked expression as panel 3.

Page 9. Dr Light is attacking Green Lantern with an apparently nonexistant attack that still causes his cape to billow out. Even so, GL’s feeling the brunt of this from behind his shield.

Fatality glows menacingly from behind while Red Arrow looks like he’s going to shoot off into the distance.

Wonder Woman flies away, ass-beckoning all the while.

Oh, wait, Roy was just fooling! He shoots Fatality in the hand. After a little interchange to show each-other how bad-ass they are, Firestorm comes in and clocks her with a giant tennis racquet. Fatality flies off into the distance, spread eagled.

See, it’s a minor bit, but she’s going away, why does her body say “Come to me, my love!”

Page 10. Wonder Woman kicks Grodd’s butt. KRAK! THOK! WHUDD!

Damn, but isn’t her butt good looking?

Feel that dissonance? Textually, we’ve got a superheroine beating the crap out of a brilliant, talking gorilla. Artistically, we’ve got a butt-shot, mid-page.

Page 11. Black Canary faces off against Giganta and comes out on tap in two attacks. Giganta attacks, Canary dodges, breaks her thumb, and then uses her scream to wonderful effect. BOOM, down.

A bit marred by the opening butt-shot, which -might be forgivable if only based on the disparate sizes of the pair. You know what would be cooler, though? An over-the shoulder shot from Giganta’s point of view, making Canary look so small and overshadowed.

From there, the way Canary so totally dominates the exchange is that much more delicious.

Textually, Canary makes a few cracks about Giganta’s weight and wardrobe.

Page 12. Vixen takes out some lava guy I can’t remember. I honestly have no idea what’s going on here, because panels 1 and 2 are so muddled together. Which is which? I honestly don’t know because every character is showing up in both.

Then she kisses Superman to give him his powers back. Superman is very confused by this.

I’m somewhat tickled because I remember back in my X-Men reading days, Rogue would take everyone’s powers with a kiss. It was ridiculous then, and it’s ridiculous now. From the “Kiss him” directive bubble, I imagine there’ll be more story to this, though.

On the other hand, I’m a bit confused. I thought she, like Animal Man, just kinda copied other abilities. Now she steals them? Weirdly undefined powers and abilities FTW, perhaps?

Page 13. I’ve noticed in this issue that many scenes seem to bleed over into the pages around them, either one panel sneaking into the previous page (see page 10), or, like here, one sneaking into the next. I’m not sure why it’s happening, because it doesn’t help the flow of the issue.

In any case, next we have a single panel of Hawkgirl and Ivy about to go at it. That’s it, just one panel, no dialogue, nothing. It’s like our eyes were taken across it while we looked from Superman and Vixen’s confused smooch to…

Fatality blasts Red Arrow! She hates his new name, too! And the arrows sticking out of her arm. Which GL helpfully explains is prosthetic. Thus it’s able operate at full functionality until destroyed.

It’s always confused me. You take a high tech piece of machinery, like an arm, do incredible amounts of damage to it, and it continues to function. Remember all the times Cable’s arm took so much damage it had an aura of permanent sparks shooting out of it? But the arm was fine, sure.

Not like those weak, fleshy things that would stop after only one little puncture wound. Unless you’re manly, in which case it’ll just annoy you.

What follows is a long conversation between Firestorm, Black Lightning, and Red Tornado about getting Reddy up and running again. Despite being the most advanced android on the planet, Red Tornado has no ability to emote, as he has the exact same expression in five different panels. Or perhaps they removed that crucial ability when they pulled him apart. I don’t know.

Firestorm, despite being one of the most powerful beings around, cannot put Reddy back together again. We’ll ignore the fact that Reddy, as established in the first storyline of this run of JLA, has an amazing self-repair program. I’m pretty sure that, much like Legos, if you just put Arm A into slot B, he’d be up and running in as little as one reboot.

This conversation runs through Page 14, which ends when everyone gets bored of the talking and asks for more whacky again.

Page 15. Grodd attacks. Firestorm creates a brick wall out of nothing. Grodd smashes wall.

And the big one hits. San Francisco is GONE! The Teen Titans are working overtime to save the City by the Bay which leaves the JLA to take care of this problem on their own.

Okay, maybe not, but something starts rumbling.

As Grodd attacks, though, Reddy goes flying in many different directions. Hilarious.

Page 16. Geo-Force, ignoring decades of geology research, opens a fissure in the earth, which swallows Grodd and closes.

I really can’t say much more than that. The pit was apparently bottomless, which makes me wonder if, in addition to earth-shaping powers, he has the ability to make the earth hollow.

Nest Dr Light has apparently been beaten. His non-existant attack must have backlashed and caused some undetermined hurty.

Cheetah wakes him up, saying they’ve got to get going, as the cause is lost. The shot of her waking him up is odd, though. Why did she toss her hair over to one side? Why is she looking away? Does she not care for him? Not want to see if he’s been wounded.

Also, I’m struck by the inconvenience of having a tail. If it means you’ve got to cut the back of your pants to sit just at the top of the butt-crack, I’m not sure I’d want one, no matter the advantages.

Or you could just cut a whole, I suppose.

In any case, Cheetah helps him up and away until…

Page 17. The coolest fucking moment in the entire book. Cheetah backstabs (back…scratches?) Light and lays into him like the rapist he is. Light is apparently surprised that she’d feel angered by his tendency to get all pelvic-thrusty at the poor and underpowered because she kills people.

So does he. In any case, Cheetah delivers the killing blow. I’m a bit confused by this killing blow, since it seems to be a fairly weak swipe. If you have pointy claws, wouldnt it make more sense to do a thrusting, stabby-type motion? Get the force generated by the shoulder and body rather than the forearm and elbow? That would really cause the attack to hit and then puncture, which is going to make someone’s day a lot more difficult to finish than a series of scraping cuts. They may be deep, but they won’t do nearly so much damage.

Or would, until Wonder Woman stops her and shows off some ass-cleavage. Apparently killing isn’t okay, but butt-shots are.

Let’s look at this page and take stock. We’ve got Dr. Light, who would happily rape and murder every female in the DCU. We’ve got Cheetah, who would happily kill anyone who gets in her way. (Although, to be fair, she’s apparently not very good at it, since this is twice she’s gone and done things poorly.)

And we’ve got Wonder Woman, who killed Max Lord on world-wide television (The Brother Eye Network! Fresh from the supers to you 24-7! Eye Am Standing By!)

Dr Light seems miles worse than Max Lord, but what do I know.

Page 18. Wonder Woman apparently is not going to take down Cheetah. Firestorm will do that.

Luthor finally starts to fight, trading blasts with GL. Superman shows up and distracts Luthor enough for GL and… GL to hold Luthor down. (Where did Hal come from? Left field, apparently.) Why it takes two GLs to generate two hands to hold down Luthor, I don’t know.

Page 19. Oh, Hal came from another solar system. While Flash couldn’t make it.

Luthor is going to kill Superman. Because, despite his brilliant financial and scientific mind, he thinks his best plan is going toe-to-toe with one of the five most powerful beings on the planet in a physical showdown.

Supes understands that Luthor is being really, really dumb and breaks the armor.

Ah, but Luthor has another plan! What is it? Stay tuned because all will be revealed… sometime. Probably in some other book.

Page 20. VICTOLY! Beatdowns completed, Black Canary takes this moment to show off her AMAZING butt for all and sundry. She even uses here-to-fore unknown telekinetic powers to hold Joker in mid-air so she can thrust her ass.

See, Batman! You can’t lead the JLA, for you do not have an awesome posterior.

Batman apparently doesn’t think much of this, as he disobeyed Canary.

Then Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad show up to take all the villains and chuck them into Salvation Run.

Now, I’m behind a bit on Checkmate, but it seems to me that if you’ve been given a dictate NOT to run any operations, but you want to do so, showing up face-to-face with some of the most public superheroes on the planet with your covert operations team might not be the best plan.

Bad, Amanda. No cookie for you.

Page 21. Canary shrugs and hands off the bad guys.

Page 22. Hal reminds Canary of an impending wedding. She leaves to get written completely out of character by Judd Winick and then to stab Ollie in the neck.

Also, any villains who weren’t contained here are apparently going to attack again, just to interrupt the festivities. I wonder if any who were captured are going to magically teleport out to break up the party and then get back before anyone notices so they can still show up in time for Salvation Run.

Then Batman ignores the fact that she’s in charge even more and insists Firestorm is on the team. Black Lightning acknowledges Batman’s powers of the divine, then Superman and Wonder Woman continue this undermining of Canary’s position.

And the issue abruptly ends.

So, here we are. On one hand, I liked some things here. A lot of fun, whammy action and fighting, where a number of heroines (and even one villianess) got to lay out some serious smackdown.

On the other hand, the writing remained a bit weak. Nothing really got resolved, which is disappointing, since this seemed like it was going to be a big storyline. Since everything is apparently going elsewhere for resolution, I begin to wonder what the hell the point of JLA is.

See, back when Grant Morrison did JLA, it was very clear. These were going to be stories showcasing the most awesome of awesome heroes saving the world from bigger and bigger threats. The Hyperclan. Darkseid. Vandel Savage. The Injustice Gang. Early JLA was a book full of fun awesome. It proudly declared that it was the paragon book for the DCU. If you wanted the biggest and best adventures, you had to read them there.

They were stories that were so big, no one hero could contain them.

What is Justice League of America, though? Look at the team, even now, over a year since the book started, I’m not entirely sure who’s on the roster, who’s in charge, or even what their purpose is. They have a worse logo, a less cool HQ, and worst of all the book seems to be little more than a fill in the gaps title.

Seriously, why the fuck is this story dovetailing into Salvation Run and the BC/GA wedding special? This is the Justice League. They come, they kick ass, they go home and deal with their own problems in their own books. End of story.

As written, it’s like just another in the innumerable books DC is putting out that hint at bigger things going on.

I don’t think this is McDuffie’s fault. He’s just the writer on the one book, after all. DC is in the midst of a four+ year epic crossover event. that’s likely going to last until NEXT December.

Things are getting so messy that what should arguably be the biggest book, the centerpiece of the entire DCU line feels like a fill-in afterthought. Like “Oh, yeah, what the hell do they do when they aren’t in their own books?”

Still, McDuffie does do some things well. See the fun whacky action and girls kicking butt.

It’s totally undermined by Benes’ art, though. The number of cleavage-prone butt-shots from the girls in this issue is nearly disturbing fetish-levels. I can appreciate a nice derriere, but I don’t need to see them trying to suck their costumes into their rectums. It’s just too much, and not really appealing.

PLUS, and I don’t know if I’m the only one who has observed this, but I don’t think it’s really comfortable. Think about it. Go to a swimming pool and watch the ladies, On occasion, they’ll reach back with their fingers, grab the hems of the legs and pull a little bit.

Skintight clothes have a tendency to ride up a little bit, and there’s a reaction to reverse the process.

Apparently, among their numerous fighting abilities, the ladies of the DCU have no nerve endings down there, because they aren’t so bothered.

Or, alternatively, Benes is a crap artist.

All that butt-kicking? That’s sexy. Black Canary being strong and taking out Giganta in two seconds flat? Sexy. Wonder Woman laying the smack-down on Grodd? Sexy. Cheetah realizing how bad Light really is, and providing some visceral “HOO YEAH!” from the reader? Sexy. And Awesome.

The art? Ugly, sexist tripe which doesn’t do the text any favors. And as muddled as the DCU is, the text is needing a lot of help.