Oct
24

New York Comic Con 2011: No Fear, No Loathing, Just A Pleasant Experience

Posted by on Monday, October 24th, 2011 at 03:24:49 PM

Another New York Comic Con has come and goneā€¦ The FBB crew ran wild during the annual pop culture festival that reminds us that we have the best and the worst hobby in the world. We drank, ate, schmoozed with creators and held our annual FBB/4L reunion sans David “Benedict Arnold” Brothers. We also drank. In the midst of all the fun, there were some fascinating announcements and developments. Let’s take a brief look, shall we?

 

Ann Nocenti Tapped to Revitalize Green Arrow

I haven’t really cared about Green Arrow since the Longbow Hunters series from the late eighties. From the perspective of preadolescent Jamaal, Mike Grell’s Oliver Queen was one of the few DC characters that felt like a real adult. He didn’t seem naive (Superman) or emotionally damaged (Batman) or boring (Green Lantern, Flash). He was driven by passions that I didn’t entirely understand but associated with adulthood. And he had facial hair, like my Dad, my grandfather and Tom Selleck. Reading the Longbow Hunters felt a little like getting a pass into a secret club. I lost interest in both the book and the character as I got older. I’ve read a bit of Andy Diggle’s acclaimed miniseries, but it didn’t stick. So when DC announced the new Green Arrow series as part of their relaunch, I was less than enthused. My interest declined further when the creative team and premise (“callow Steve Jobs with a bow and arrow”) were announced. I was convinced that Green Arrow was a book that I couldn’t possibly be bothered to read.

So, why am I eagerly awaiting issue 7 of Green Arrow? Ann Nocenti. For the uninitiated, Ann Nocenti is a writer, editor, documentarian and journalist who’s best known for her work on Daredevil in the late 1980’s and the Kid Eternity series for Vertigo in the early ’90’s. She’s also the creator of the X-characters Longshot, Mojo and Spiral. Nocenti’s a forgotten almost-great, part of that generation of American writers of superhero comics who came to prominence in a time of transition, as the conventions that promoted a highly stylized, almost theatrical style of writing was beginning to fade, but the comparatively naturalistic approach to superhero comics writing popular today had yet to emerge. Nocenti never let the reader forget the fundamental humanity of the characters she was writing, even when she placed them in absurd circumstances (Daredevil v. Ultron!). With all due respect to Frank Miller, she was the first writer that made Daredevil seem like a real guy (and one of the few writers who didn’t seem to forget that the character was blind).

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Nocenti problematized one of the core notions behind superhero comics (and some defense lawyers) – that one person can bring justice to the world. In Kid Eternity, she engaged in a trippy exploration of ethics, the media and the nature of consciousness with amazing art from Sean Phillips. In retrospect, it was a deeply flawed work, but was definitely the product of a writer with an interesting voice.

I lost track of Nocenti after Kid Eternity. She did a few small projects, a Typhoid Mary mini here, a Batman story there, but for the most part, she was ghost. Nocenti went on to become a journalist and filmmaker. She covered prison reform, did a cool sounding documentary set in Central Asia. In recent years, she’s dipped her toes in the game – contributing to the Girl Comics anthology and Daredevil 500 (3 Jacks w. David Aja, one of the best Daredevil stories since… her work on Daredevil).

Now she’s back with a pitch for Green Arrow that manages to be conventional and promising at the same time – James Bond meets Steve Jobs with just a touch of social awareness. I know, this does’t sound much different from the pitch above. I just know that Nocenti will do something interesting with it, even if its unsuccessful.

Pull quote from her interview with Josie Campbell at Comic Book Resources:

 

“I think people’s strengths are kind of, in some way, their flaws. Green Arrow is a thrill seeker and he shoots off and does stuff, but there are repercussions to this shooting off and doing something. I’m going to play a lot with the notion that if you are going to be an impulsive, reckless hero, your heroic instincts better be pretty right on. What I think about is sports; Wayne Gretzky has to know where the puck is next and he has to get to it, no matter what. The long distance runner has to endure a huge amount of pain, they have to develop a tolerance for pain. If [Green Arrow] slams himself off to do something, his instincts have to be unerring — like shooting an arrow. So I’m going to fool around with that, I’m going to fool around with the double edge of his strengths also being his weaknesses, in a weird way, and I’m going to give him some really awesome new women to play with!”

 

Marc Bernardin on Static Shock

Static Shock was always my least favorite Milestone Media property. Don’t get me wrong, I think the book was an incredibly cool idea, and both the comics and the cartoon series were well executed. It’s just that I was outside the target demo when both were released, so neither held my interest. Plus, I’ve just never been a big fan of teen heroes. I’m glad the books are out there, but they’re just not my cup of tea.

So how did I find myself reading the new Static Shock series? I was bored and David “Marcus Junius Brutus” Brothers recommended the book. Turns out that I loved the first two issues. John Rozum and Scott McDaniel told a fun, fast-paced story about a young hero struggling to balance his personal life with school and his career as a superhero in a new city. It’s a premise familiar to every fan of superhero comics (SpiderMan, Blue Beetle or Invincible to name a few), but Rozum and McDaniel’s took a different approach than most by removing the sense of existential angst that pervades many teen superhero books. Rozum and McDaniel’s Static was a bright, refreshingly ordinary African American teenager who found real joy in his powers and his life as a costumed adventurer. It was far from a perfect book (the layouts needed work and the antagonists were frustratingly generic), but had promise. So when Rozum announced his departure from the book, I was pretty disappointed.

Enter Marc Bernardin. If you’re reading this column, you’re almost certainly familiar with the excellent pop culture writing Marc’s done for sites ranging from Gawker’s io9 blog to Entertainment Weekly, and should be familiar with his work on Alphas, a great show on Syfy about heroic metahumans who aren’t superheroes. He’s also responsible for the underrated Highwaymen mini and the Genius one shot for Top Cow.

Bernardin is part of an increasingly common breed of superhero comic writers who combine an intimate understanding of the history and conventions of the genre with an irreverent spirit and dedication to modern storytelling. I think Bernardin has the potential to be great and Static Shock could be his shot at entering the second tier of superhero writers(1).

I’m really looking forward to this one.

Key Quote:

“The thing that defines a hero is choice. They choose to do the hard thing when everyone else would do the easy one. They choose to put themselves in harm’s way. So we need to know more about the kind of person who makes that kind of choice, especially one so young.”

 

David Hine announces Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred

Hine’s Bulletproof Coffin was one of the best comics of 2010. The sequel sounds even better.

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Rick Remender and Gabriel Hardman take on Marvel’s Secret Avengers

With all due respect to Messrs. Brubaker and Ellis, Rick Remender is the perfect writer for this book. The elevator pitch for Secret Avengers is intriguing – Steve Rogers’ black ops strike force tackling the threats that the regular Avengers are too busy/overwhelmed to deal with – but the execution was always lacking. It should have been a perfect blend of geopolitical intrigue, Steranko inspired spy hijinks and zany Marvel continuity. Brubaker wrote the book as a second class Avengers title. Ellis’ version was fun, but generic. I only read one issue of Spencer on the title, but it was one of the worst comics of the year.

In the last year, Rick Remender’s become one of the best writers at Marvel, working on books that shouldn’t work. Flash Thompson as special ops Venom? Another ‘pro-active’ X-Force death squad? (Yes, a death squad.) Remender tells an entertaining, fast-paced action story in Venom while addressing both addiction and the challenges faced by a disabled veteran. In X-Force, he just tells the best story featuring an X-team since Grant Morrison while exploring the nature of evil.

In an interview with Marvel’s Tim Stevens, Remender described the book as “international and interdimensional. Grounded and crazy”. I can’t wait until issue 21.1.

Of course there’s also the incomparable Gabriel Hardman…..

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Two quotes this time:

Remender’s Secret Avengers will introduce the Adaptoids,

“sentient, hyper-evolved descendants of the original Super Adaptoid; they are much more powerful, with unique powers of adaption. Sentinels hunt mutants, Adaptoids hunt Avengers!”

 

 

“The opening arc will have a big secret war, a big secret new world, a big secret new race, a big team death, a big secret team betrayal, and maybe even begin a secret affair.”

 

Comixology/Graphic.ly/Newsstand

I’m all in on day and date digital comics initiatives. I buy all my DC and Dark Horse comics online. Once Marvel comes to its senses and puts Parker, Pak, Remender and Waid’s books online, I’ll buy those too. In the future, I may only buy print comics as objets d?art (like Mazzuchelli’s Asterios Polyp or Thompson’s Habibi).

One minor drawback of the systems created by Comixology, Graphic.ly and Dark Horse is that I’m unable to subscribe to the periodicals that I know I plan to buy – books like Action Comics, Sweet Tooth or Hellboy. First world problems anyone? Seriously, I’m not complaining, but it would be a cool feature.

I also think that it might be a boon to creators and small/independent publishers, who need a digital marketplace that not only helps them build and sustain an audience, but lowers the shelf position advantage of the larger publishers. The Direct Market for comics is a well-designed Marvel/DC comic delivery device, and something like an iTunes podcast store for digital comics could help level the playing field. It also might relieve some of the deadline pressure faced by some creators (who work for Marvel/DC) and create new opportunities for the handful of independent creators who still publish print comics in a periodical format.

So I was extremely excited when I read that Graphicly was opting to participate in Apple’s Newsstand, a folder that organizes magazine and newspaper app subscriptions in one place for users of ios5 devices (iPads, iPhones, iPod Touches). Once you subscribe to the media, Newsstand automatically updates the app in the background whenever new issues are available. It’s like delivery, “only better”. The potential for periodical comic books is obvious. You could subscribe to all your favorite comics and have them ‘delivered’ to your device once they are released. Check out David “Aaron Burr” Brothers’ great piece on Graphicly’s announcement for Comics Alliance (that includes an interview with Graphicly c.e.o. and founder Micah Baldwin). This is the first step towards the “broadcasting” of digital comics.

I was vaguely surprised to read that Comixology didn’t immediately jump on board. Comixology c.e.o. David Steinberger tweeted the following after Graphicly’s announcement:

 

“Apple Newsstand subscriptions charge every month, whether or not the comic ships. Comics ship late. So, no comiXology newsstand yet.”

 

Chris and I happened to run into Mr. Steinberger at the con, where he explained that Newsstand uses a time based subscription system in which the subscriber pays a fee for a particular time period. In a typical model for a monthly comic, subscribers will be charged for the book every month, whether or not the comic actually ships. He expressed concern that if a comic doesn’t ship on time (or ship at all), the subscriber would be charged.

I’m not too worried about this. First of all, let’s define the scope of the problem. For the purposes of this discussion, the problem only arises if a book does not ship in the month that it was scheduled for publication. If you’re a subscriber to a monthly book, this means that you receive 11 comics at the end of the year instead of 12. We’re not talking about books that ship a few weeks late, but books that would ship an entire month late.

I think Graphicly (in collaboration with publishers and creators) selected the initial cohort of Newsstand books verrrry carefully. The titles that are part of this initiative are pretty high profile, and the creators involved have a reputation of putting work out in a timely manner. I doubt that one of these books will be more than a week or two late. In the unlikely event that one of these books ships extraordinarily late (i.e., one month or more), it’s hard to imagine that the company wouldn’t remedy that situation by ensuring that subscribers get an additional book or providing some sort of credit or refund.

I’m even less concerned about Graphic Policy’s suggestion that Newsstand could be a disincentive for publishers to double ship books as a part of a promotion. At first, I just assumed that (a) this was not a problem faced by independent publishers/creators and (b) Marvel and DC would probably do whatever it was they did for print subscribers – either giving them those issues for free or working with the subscribers to extend the duration of the subscription. But that’s not a good answer, is it? So, I asked our resident expert. Chris informed me that almost all of Marvel and DC’s ongoing monthly titles shipped 12 issues in 2010, which suggests that subscribers to those books may not be adversely affected by bi-weekly promotions.

Personally, I’d love to see Newsstand adopt a unit-based subscription system (even one that auto-renews would be an improvement) that charges customers for a fixed number of units – so we can pre-commit to arcs, etc. Another intriguing possibility would be a pre-order system that charges upon shipment of new issue.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops in the coming months. I’m particularly interested in the implications of Newsstand for other independent creators, especially those who publish irregularly, since publishers can set different time frames and billing options for Newsstand subscriptions.

Brandon Graham and Simon Roy on Extreme Studios Prophet.

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It’s easy to lose yourself in the lush, fully realized worldscapes created by Brandon Graham. King City was a revelatory experience. You could spend hours poking through the snippets, hints and suggestions of narratives that litter his site.

So the idea that Brandon Graham will be tackling Rob Liefeld’s Prophet is pretty exciting. Long story short – Prophet was Liefeld’s riff on Kirby’s OMAC. A super soldier wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape. It wasn’t Liefeld’s most inspired idea, but there’s some potential there.

I’m not familiar with Simon Roy’s art, but it looks extremely promising. It almost appears influenced by European comic artists.

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Brandon Graham put out a preview of the new Prophet series on his site. Check it out.

No Fear, No Loathing, Just A Pleasant Experience: New York Comic Con 2011

Okay, on to the Con:

My personal highlight of the Con? For the first year, my wife agreed to accompany me to the Con on Friday. She’s not a comics fan, but she loves art and is a pop culture aficionado. She got to meet Peter Beagle, author of the classic Last Unicorn novel (and got an autographed copy), picked up some awesome posters and cool t-shirts from Archie and Cyanide & Happiness.

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I was only able to make it out to one panel on one day of the Con. I saw R. Sikoryak, Michael Kupperman (as Mark Twain), Sam Henderson, Danny Hellman and Emily Flake perform the hilarious Carousel Slideshow at the cavernous Hasbro stage located in the North Pavilion. The Hasbro Stage was the worst possible location for a dramatic reading of comics – a loud, distracting environment filled with autograph seekers, gamers and those who needed a break from the crowds. Somehow, the five panelists made it work, with Hellman’s Death of Baron Vapid and Flake’s Dangers of Halloween were real standouts. Of course, Kupperman was awesome (he is Kupperman, after all) and read from his new book, Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010.

The Haul

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Nick Dragotta, from the powerful (mostly) silent final issue of Fantastic Four (588). The issue follows the death of the Human Torch and documents the family’s struggle to adjust to his absence. The image above shows us what happens when the smartest man in the world runs out of answers. Reed Richards is coming to terms with the fact that he can’t solve everything. I love the small details in this page – the slouch, the bags under his eyes, the hand hanging carelessly off the arm of the chair. If you’ve ever felt burned out, exhausted at the end of your rope, you know just how Reed feels in this moment. Dragotta works digitally now, so I was able to cop a print at a super affordable price. Over the last couple of months, Dragotta’s been working with Joe Casey on the criminally underrated Vengeance miniseries.

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Jill Thompson’s famous proposed re-design of Wonder Woman. Beautiful work.

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Habibi, by Craig Thompson. I’ve been trying to avoid reviews of this, but couldn’t help from reading the thoughts of Eddie Campbell and Nadim Damluji on the book. I’m not far in the book at all, but I believe I may end up siding with Mr. Campbell. Time will tell.

That’s all for today, but coming soon… Chris and I revisit the DC 52!

(1) You may be asking yourself who else is in my non-scientific, completely subjective second tier. The aforementioned Fred van Lente, Rick Remender, Scott Snyder, Jeff Lemire, Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron, Jon Hickman, Paul Cornell and Greg Pak. I’ll add Kelly Sue DeConnick once I read more of her work, but Rescue and Osborn were stellar. I kinda want to put Bendis here, but I’m torn. I love his work with Sara Picelli on Ultimate Spider Man, but his formulaic writing on the Avengers books, Scarlet and Brilliant kick him down a notch.

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