Funnybook Babylon

January 16, 2009

Obamamania Update!

So, hey, people sure are excited about this whole “Spider-Man Meets Barack Obama” thing. Here’s a few things I wanted to address about the excitement.

1) WHY DIDN’T MY RETAILER ORDER THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF THIS THING, NOW IT’S ALL SOLD OUT!

When retailers were asked to make their initial orders for the book, there was no mention whatsoever of the Obama connection:

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #583 Written by MARK WAID Pencils by BARRY KITSON Cover by JOHN ROMITA SR. YOU ASKED FOR IT, YOU GOT IT! PETER PARKER ON A DATE! After the revelations of “Mind on Fire”, love is in the air for more than one member of the cast and Pete finally gets some time out with the ladies. (and who better to bring it to you than two men who both had dates as recently as 1987!) Amidst the romance though, forces are gathering that will spell trouble for Peter in the months to come. 32 PGS./Rated A …$2.99

 

Based on this information, retailers were asked to place their orders in late November. On December 16th, retailers were informed that the issue would have an additional story with Obama guest-starring, as well as an Obama-themed variant cover. It would also cost a dollar more. They were allowed to adjust their orders, but with the caveat that in order to get the Obama Cover, they’d need to adjust their order of the regular John Romita cover to a level above their order for October’s Amazing Spider-Man #575, a standard issue without extra pages or Barack Obama. Once they’d ordered more of ASM #583 than they did #575, they’d be able to order as many of the Obama Cover as they wanted, “while supplies last”. There appears to be a two day window (from 12/16 to 12/18) for retailers to adjust their orders before the Final Order Cut-Off Date.

Now, on one level any sort of Obamorabilia seems like a $urefire $ale$ $ucce$$, but put yourself in a retailer’s shoes: the economy’s boned right now, retail is down across the board, and many retailers I’ve heard from are operating on a pretty tight budget. On top of that, Amazing Spider-Man is a solid upper-tier title, and stores probably ordered a decent number of copies of ASM #575. They’re going to have to order at least as many copies of the Romita cover as they did that issue, and they’re going to cost about half a buck more apiece than the average ASM issue. Then they can order as many copies of the Obama cover as they want.

This isn’t the first “ripped from today’s headlines” comic in recent memory: IDW did the Presidential Material bio-comics of Obama and John McCain earlier this year, and looking back a few years there was a whole slew of 9/11-inspired comics, including an issue of Amazing Spider-Man that had a similar rush. All of these comics had good sales, but by the same token most stores seem to have a huge stack of these other headlines-grabbing titles sitting around today. If a store has any sort of budget concerns, any unsold stock mouldering on the shelves is money they can’t use to pay the rent, the payroll, or order other things they could sell next month. It’s understandable that they’d be cautious. Especially since the cover didn’t even get unveiled until last week, and the mainstream press cycle earlier this week. Had there not been such an Obama-centric cover and massive media coverage, the store that ordered heavily might be sitting on a pile of a Betty Brant Spotlight. Anyone who really wants to read the story can pick up the second (or the already announced third) printing in a week or two, and if your collector’s OCD dictates that you need the first printing, I suppose that’s what the insane secondary market is for!

2) BARACK OBAMA’S CHILDHOOD FONDNESS FOR SPIDER-MAN PORTENDS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN TERMS OF THE STATE OF THE CURRENT COMIC BOOK MARKET

This sounds incredibly obvious, but it’s clearly not to everyone. For instance:

And what does it say that one of the most important and influential men of our time chose a Marvel character over DC? The fact that these two comic books came out on the stands at the same time, and one has seized the imagination of both the comic-reading & non-comic-reading public, and one is just a sad finale to a troubled mini-series, says a lot.

And if you look at the two key images from those comics — the character death in Final Crisis, and the cover of Spider-Man — there is no way you can say those two things are the same.

People don’t want charred corpses of heroes right now.

The other comic book in question is of course Final Crisis #6, actually the penultimate issue of the series. Batman dies in the book, something that’s raised the ire of parts of the blogosphere. I don’t want to get into that, but everyone is correct in saying that the “death of Batman” has not captured the public’s imagination in the way that Obama’s Amazing Spider-Man guest spot did, or for that matter the way the similar deaths of Superman and Captain America did. Maybe that’s because people want “positive” news right now, but I think the bigger issue is that DC blew its news cycle for “Batman dying” back in November. The finale of “Batman R.I.P.” got covered by the New York Times (twice!), USA Today, Los Angeles Times and so on and so forth. And of course, he didn’t die at all. The fact that DC “cried wolf” once in the past sixty days about Batman dying likely affected coverage far more than any intrinsic quality of the books, which all respect to the creators all all these headlines-grabbing books aside means very little in terms of press coverage; the Death of Superman was six poorly composed issues of Superman and a big silent rock man punching each other really really hard until they both die, but it got ten times the press coverage of many superior comics, including Final Crisis #6.

But even putting aside the spurious comparison between DC and Marvel using two arbitrary single issues, nothing about Amazing Spider-Man #583 demonstrates that Marvel is putting out a superior — or even particularly good — line of comics. I should point out that external to this debate, I agree that Marvel is whipping DC’s ass, not only in market share but in aggregate quality of product, but come on.

Three or four decades ago, before most of the people involved with the production and consumption of these books were even born, a young Barry Obama was a comics fan. Two of his favorite books in (let’s say) 1972 were Amazing Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian, two books published by Marvel Comics in the early 1970s. It’s a testament to the work of Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, John Romita, Gil Kane and the rest of the 1970s Marvel Bullpen that they created fondly-remembered books that were a part of our President-Elect’s childhood. It’s possible that young Barry was even a Marvel Zombie, eschewing any comic from that damnable Brand Ecch and staying loyal to Marvel every time he hit that Hawaiian newsstand.

None of that has any relevance to today’s comic industry. As far as I know, Obama hasn’t picked up a comic in decades. He’s never made any judgment about the reigns of Joe Quesada or Dan Didio, never paged through Final Crisis or Secret Invasion and grinned or grimaced. If he has, and has an opinion about Women in Refrigerators or One More Day or Batman R.I.P., I would absolutely love to hear them. I would love to share a proverbial beer with him and talk about comics and The Wire and Michael Pollan and I wouldn’t even snitch if he snuck out back for a smoke at some point in the conversation. But this conversation is never going to happen, and not simply because I could never get the security clearance to be that close to a head of state.

One man’s childhood nostalgia doesn’t spell an endorsement of a similarly branded product decades later. I watched Transformers all the time as a kid, had the toys, the lunch box, the bedsheets. I never saw the movie, I don’t endorse the movie, and even though I never got into G.I. Joe, I’m not making any bold predictions that its upcoming movie is going to pale in comparison to Transformers. Because it makes absolutely no sense.

At absolute most, you can applaud Marvel’s marketing savvy in hitching its wagon to the phenomenon that is Barack Obama. It’s certainly paid off, and you could argue that it’s a good example of a greater trend of such smart moves. I’ll applaud along, but that’s all it means.

3) ARE YOU SICK OF ALL OF THIS YET? I’M VERY SORRY, BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING TO BE MISERABLE ALL YEAR

I know that this Obama/Comic Book business started last year by Savage Dragon and Presidential Material, but the floodgates are about to open. Next week sees President Obama make another guest spot in Thunderbolts #128, the start of a multi-part arc where President Obama and his pal Norman Osborn fight off an assasination attempt on Air Force One. One can only imagine how many more appearances both Marvel and DC will slot in in coming months. Sitting presidents turning up in superhero comics is nothing new, but I imagine they’re going to become even more prevalent now that it’s harder to fall back on the prevalent fill-in of Old White Guy President That May or May Not Be [Current President].

Never to be outdone, Rob Liefeld’s already announced Obama will be featured in next month’s Youngblood #8, originally scheduled to be released in September 2008 with a completely different plot and creative team. I suppose if you’re going to be half a year late with a book, you might as well strike while a different iron is hot!

And finally, Kyle Baker has made many a FBB staffer cry when he announced that his 2009-scheduled Toussaint is indefinitely postponed after his publisher requested he do an Obama biography. I want to see the Toussaint biography too, but I can see why the Obama one is more timely. Plus, I’m pretty sure Baker will be the first black creators working on all these Obama comics, so it’s got that going for it too!

I fear this is only the tip of the iceberg, and we’ll all be reading ridiculously vitriolic Newsarama comments about Obama for months to come. Strap in, everybody!

8 Comments »

  1. I liked the book, but the death of Batman is something that was spectacularly fucked in the PR sense of things.

    In terms of selling comics, and in the larger sense of pop-culture relevance. I mean, the book works on a storytelling level, but jesus fuck, you kill your staple character and you don’t make a huge stink out of it?

    No press? I’m pretty shocked about that side of things in retrospect.

    Comment by Joseph Mastantuono — January 16, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  2. What further baffles me is the fact that if you look at who is popping up in Action Comics when Greg Rucka takes over, you’ll see they’ve already indirectly blown who will come out the victor in “Battle For The Cowl.”

    Comment by NeoKefka — January 16, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

  3. Action Comics is involving the Kryptonian Nightwing (the alias and costume are based on a Silver Age character from whom Dick Grayson took the name), not Dick Grayson. Is there something else I’m missing?

    Comment by monstermike — January 16, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  4. Well, the fact that there’s new guy running around with the Nightwing alias makes you wonder what Dick’s going to be calling himself in the coming months.

    Comment by NeoKefka — January 16, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  5. According to the owner of my LCS , some guy popped in as soon as they opened on Wednesday and bought up all the copies of ASM. Anybody else experience something similar?

    Comment by istewart — January 16, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

  6. NeoKefka:

    Not only that, but in a past DC Nation column, Didio had a bucnh of staements that were either fact or fiction and the fun was trying to figure out which was which (and he confirmed that they were half and half). One of them was: “There will be a Nightwing in the DCU.”

    I don’t know about anyone else, that that’s a pretty good clue that Dick Grayson will at least no longer be carrying the Nightwing mantle. For one, it’s a tricky statement since people will either automatically assume that Dick Grayson is still Nightwing and that eth statement is true or that he will no longer be Nightwing and the statement is false. But when you consider that the Kryptonian known as NW would be sticking around, you have to assume it’s true and you could read further into the statement by pointing out how Dido said “a Nightwing” and not “at least one Nightwing”.

    Ok, I’ll stop overanalyzing a minor detail.

    Comment by Preston — January 17, 2009 @ 4:53 am

  7. If Barack was not a “Marvel Zombie” in the past, it appears he is now:
    http://pop-monkey.blogspot.com/2009/01/zombama-remix.html

    Comment by Hash Astro — January 18, 2009 @ 11:54 pm

  8. Battle for the COW! BATTLE FOR THE COWWWWW!!!

    Comment by DensityDuck — January 19, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

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