Funnybook Babylon

May 10, 2012

Five Years Later: The Oral History of Countdown to Final Crisis

Filed under: Articles,Downcounting — Chris Eckert @ 10:00 pm

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of Countdown #51. Hopefully everyone honored the anniversary in the same way as its creators: by trying to forget that Countdown ever existed.

Indeed, what can be said about Countdown that has not already been said about the Vietnam War? It was a quagmire, an unwinnable war of attrition that even the planners could not find a graceful way to end. It left a psychic scar on the nation, and destroyed the best years of countless young men’s lives.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as Vietnam. If nothing else, Countdown provided the spark that led to me blogging about comics. And if you don’t think that’s a good thing, fine: it also provided us a near-perfect lab specimen of what an Editorially Driven Comic Book looks like. To a certain extent, everything you can say about Countdown is true of nearly every Big Two superhero comic:

  • It was published to fill a hole in the schedule
  • Non-Executive-Staff creative members were treated like interchangeable cogs, comic-producing machines
  • Plot Events (and importance to the companywide Uberplot) were privileged over what would be traditionally called “story” and “character”
  • It received constant “comics” “media” attention on the big blogs despite no one, not even the interviewers and DC employees extruding the book weekly, seemed to care in the least

Countdown may have been a lightning-in-a-bottle, textbook demonstration of what you get when the entire publishing line of a company is hashed out by people who have never been hired to be creators on a dry erase board, then handed down piecemeal to people actually hired to be creators. But it isn’t the last. From countless Blackest Night tie-ins (now with free prize inside!) to Marvel’s endless series of Avengers Presents: We Need Some Movie Tie-Ins, from Avengers vs. X-Men to Before Watchmen, we are seeing a shift towards ever more editorially driven comics from “The Big Two”. All of the gradual, glacial movement towards treating superhero comics as something that might exist because a creator had a compelling story seems to be eroding. Of course, this exists in all media: just as there Has to Be an issue of Batman every month, there also has to be a few dozen episodes of CSI shows every year, an appropriate number of Star Wars Extended Universe novels, a Battleship motion picture, whether anyone has the perfect idea for it or not. But the ratio of “someone has a good idea they have pitched” to “someone in marketing decided this needs to exist” is growing more and more lopsided. (more…)

With Two Left Feet, It’s Hard To Walk The Straight Path

Filed under: Articles,Blurbs — Tags: , , , , , — Jamaal Thomas @ 3:00 pm

I. Everybody Talking About Changing the World, the World Ain’t Never Gonna Change

In the summer of 2011, I came up with a plan. I would collaborate with Chris Eckert on a post previewing DC’s relaunch of its line of superhero comics, and write a series of brief posts in subsequent months that would discuss the creative successes and failures of the initiative. I was cautiously optimistic about the initiative in the first few months, despite some early disappointments. Even a month ago, I still cared about five or six of these books. I was going to write a post on Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins’ Wonder Woman and Francis Manapul’s Flash and follow that up with a post on the two stand-out miniseries of the post-relaunch period at DC – Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Jamal Igle’s the Ray and James Robinson’s Shade.

I’m not sure that I can do that anymore without acknowledging my growing concerns about reading books from either publisher. I don’t think I can pretend that controversies about DC’s attitude towards the creators who work on the books it publishes don’t have an impact on whether I will buy (or can recommend) their books.

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April 30, 2012

5-10-15-20: Comic Book History for April 2012

Filed under: 5-10-15-20,Articles — Chris Eckert @ 11:41 pm

It’s the end of the month, so you know what time it is: 5-10-15-20 time! No one guessed the really dumb research question from last month: I read over two dozen black and white issues of Luke Cage looking for the first recorded instance of “Sweet Christmas!” That means no one gets the Luke Cage toy I have lying around for some reason. On with the history!

The #1 Comic Five Years Ago was Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #1
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Last month Captain America died, and this month Jeph Loeb begins mining his core competencies — jumping onto hot properties, using his rolodex of Big Name Artists, and working the untimely death of his son — into one mega-selling mini-series. Spoiler alert: we’ll be seeing more of Fallen Son in the future. (more…)

April 18, 2012

Frank Miller and the Fairy Tale History of Comics

Filed under: Articles — Chris Eckert @ 2:00 pm

This past weekend David Brothers brought up Frank Miller’s big 1994 speech from a Diamond Retailers seminar that got reprinted in the back of Sin City: The Big Fat Kill #5. He wrote something about it too. It’s a powerful speech, and dismaying at how much of the speech could easily be cross-applied to the industry eighteen years later with maybe 5% of the text adjusted. While I still don’t understand Miller’s hardline stance against anything resembling ratings or cover advisories, his message about creative freedom and creators’ rights still ring true. Which makes it all the more frustrating that he pushes what amounts to the Fairy Tale version of the comic book industry in 1954: He even does so in an attempt to “correct” history, saying:

This is how screwy our sense of our own history is. Most people in comics don’t realize that the Senate vindicated us. After due consideration, the United States Senate decided comics books were not a cause of juvenile delinquency. We were vindicated. (more…)

March 31, 2012

5-10-15-20: Comic Book History for March 2012

Filed under: 5-10-15-20,Articles — Chris Eckert @ 11:15 am

Welcome back to 5-10-15-20, a monthly column that looks at things that happened in comics using arbitrary five year jumps! I realize this is being published in April. I had finished the post a week or so ago, but got caught up researching something really dumb and forgot I hadn’t posted this until today, when I finished the research project. What do you think I was researching? Guess in the comments! There will be a prize, probably.

This time out I made a point to include when certain characters were created X years ago this month, and mention who created them. I know I’m late to the party as Tom Spurgeon has been posting for the past month on this very topic. While there’s no doubt that all the attention given to the monumental work people like Siegel, Shuster, Lee, and Kirby contributed to the comics landscape is deserved, and their treatment by the corporate benefactors of that work has been almost universally abhorrent, it’s also important to remember that there have been hundreds if not thousands of other creators working in the trenches, putting their backs into tilling the soil upon which Marvel and DC’s fertile IP grows. They’re not getting any money for their characters showing up in movies or video games or toy lines either. The literal least we can do as Team Comics is acknowledge they did stuff that made comics we like now possible.

The #1 Comic Five Years Ago Was: Captain America#25

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March 16, 2012

New 52 Brand Management Musings, or what happens when the cat wakes up.

Filed under: Articles — Jamaal Thomas @ 12:00 pm

Six months after DC’s historic line wide relaunch, it’s become clear that the artists have taken over. The four best books from the first wave — Wonder Woman, Flash, Batman and Animal Man — all have talented writers, but with all due respect to Messrs. Azzarello, Lemire and Snyder, the art is the primary appeal. It’s all about Chiang, Manapul, Capullo and Foreman.

Quick(ish) confession: I have a troubling tendency to attribute the authorship of corporate superhero books to the writer by default, particularly when the art’s mediocre. Sure, I spend time thinking about the choices made by the pencillers, inkers, colorists (and sometimes the letterers), but tend to consider them contributors to the writer’s creative vision. It’s an easy and astonishingly lazy way to read comics, but that’s the way they seem to marketed most of the time. Still… no excuse.

The writing has only been interesting to the extent that it serves the needs of the story that the artists are telling. Batman‘s entertaining because of the contrast between Capullo’s post post Bronze Age art and Snyder’s horror/thriller inspired writing. Animal Man is great because of how Lemire’s absurdist gothic horror prose complements Travel Foreman’s body horror. I love Wonder Woman and like Brian Azzarello, but without Cliff Chiang’s spare, expressive art, the story loses some of its meaning: it goes from a gripping tale of a warrior struggling with family and identity to a pretty standard superhero book. Chiang strips the book of the artifice that’s bogged down earlier volumes while retaining the iconic quality that’s central to Wonder Woman. His action scenes are plausibly staged and brutally efficient in a way that grounds a story steeped in Greek mythology. Tony Akins does a nice job and all, but it’s an entirely different book in his hands.

The other books I’ve sampled from the first relaunch wave have been maddeningly inconsistent. The first few issues of Action Comics and Batwoman were pretty good, but painfully slow pacing, reduced page counts and questionable storytelling choices have wasted much of that early promise. Williams is growing as a writer, and Morrison still shows some flashes of brilliance, but there’s something missing from both books.

So, some thoughts on the new 52 books:

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February 21, 2012

5-10-15-20: Comic Book History for February 2012

Filed under: 5-10-15-20,Articles — Chris Eckert @ 9:58 pm

In the interest of making everyone feel old, inspired by Scientific American, and because I spend too much time digging through old comic book material anyway, here’s what will hopefully be a new monthly feature: 5-10-15-20, a look back at goings-on in the funnybook field in half-decade increments. Yesterday should’ve been the fiftieth birthday of Dwayne McDuffie, but instead today marks the first anniversary of his passing. If you’d rather go read one of his books or watch something he show-ran, I understand.

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The #1 Comic Five Years Ago Was: Civil War #7

Has it really only been five years since Civil War? On one hand, it seems like there have been at least a dozen events and big status quo shifts since All The Union Employees Stood Up to Tell Cap to Give Up. On the other hand, the very first FBB podcast was recorded in the immediate aftermath of said Civil War. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been doing this for five years, but here we are. (more…)

January 9, 2012

An Aperitif

Filed under: Articles — Jamaal Thomas @ 1:00 pm

I’ve been meaning to write about comics for about two months, but life got in the way. Family, work, holidays… you know the spiel.

I haven’t stopped reading comics (as evidenced by my Twitter feed), but between the controversies about salaries and work conditions at Marvel Comics, the Kirby (and Ghost Rider) litigations, diversity in mainstream superhero books and day and date digital comics, I’ve found it easier to simply disengage from the debate for a bit. I think we’ve been having the same conversations about the comics industry for the last twenty years, and nothing really changes. We’re still asking Marvel and DC to improve working conditions for creators and to respect their creative rights. We’re hoping that they treat the writers, artists and editors who were responsible for creating their most valuable intellectual property with kindness, respect and honor. We want them to realize that attracting a workforce with diverse backgrounds and experiences will foster innovation and lead to more interesting and original stories. We want them to learn how to effectively market and sell their product to a wider audience, many of whom will never set foot in a comic store.

I feel like I’ve been trying to balance my love of some Marvel/DC books with my disdain for the management of both publishers for most of my life. They’re never going to change. Neither am I. That doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to rail against their unjust and/or shortsighted business practices, but… I guess I just need a break sometimes. Maybe it’s holiday malaise, even though this might have been the best holiday season since I was eight years old.

Quick comics update: (more…)

October 24, 2011

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

Filed under: Articles — Jamaal Thomas @ 3:24 pm

Another New York Comic Con has come and gone… 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?

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October 21, 2011

Girl Talk in Context: The Ultimates Problem

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , — Chris Eckert @ 11:31 pm

Looking across the sometimes bleak landscape of Women in Superhero Comics, it’s easy to get dispirited. Whether’s it’s inequity in representation — be it in the stories or on the credits page — there’s still plenty of ground to make up before things are acceptable. And even when female characters are pushed to the fore, it often results in tawdry trash like Catwoman, Voodoo, or Starfire in Red Hood ft. Outlawz. But not everything is terrible — it’s not like we’re back in 1996 in the Year of the Bad Girl or anything that dismal — and I admit, as White Male Privilege-y as it is, I sometimes wonder exactly what people are looking for. People choose arbitrary data points and then go off on how this proves that comics are a vast misogynistic wasteland. What percentage of colorists on team books released in October of 2011 by Marvel are female? How many women appeared on the covers of the top ten DC New 52 #1s? How many Black Lanterns were mothers? Do any of these sets of data mean anything?

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August 26, 2011

The Flashpoint Death Toll: Remembering the Fallen

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , — Chris Eckert @ 2:41 am

Everybody’s talking about THE NEW 52, which must be exciting for everyone working on those books at DC Comics. Unfortunately, they’ve spent the past few months still publishing THE OLD 50-SOMETHING, which seem to have largely been forgotten by all parties. It’s not surprising, given the fact that most of them are last-gasp inventory stories or pointless follow-ups to deflating, now-meaningless “events” like Brightest Day or JMS is Writing A Comic Just Kidding Ha Ha.

What’s mildly surprising is that no one seems to be talking about Flashpoint — good or bad. I certainly had my problems with the first couple issues, and droned on at length about in a roundtable at Savage Critics earlier this summer. Maybe everyone else kept thinking about the event during the summer, but I sure didn’t! Not just because I didn’t care for it, but because even DC’s marketing machine quickly abandoned it in favor of the long stream of hype about The New 52. We’ve been told the titles and creative teams, shown the covers and logos, been told about the Day & Date Digital, been given questionnaire answers by the creators, and very soon we’ll be offered the actual comic books that are part of this Bold New Era of DC Comics. But what about Flashpoint? It’s the big Summer Event that leads into this Bold New Era, and while it’s far from over — there’s still the final core issue to come — it hasn’t particularly gotten anyone talking. Maybe it’s event fatigue. Maybe the Flash just isn’t as bankable as Green Lantern, even with Geoff Johns at the helm. Or maybe it’s because Flashpoint is a glorified Elseworlds/What If?/Age of Apocalypse rehash where it seems like the creative teams forgot halfway through that the elevator pitch is The Butterfly Effect and not A Warmed Over Riff on Warren Ellis’s Ruins.

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July 30, 2011

Avenging the Week – SDCC Leftovers

Filed under: Articles,Avenging the Week — Jamaal Thomas @ 11:02 pm

With the flood of news last week from San Diego, its inevitable that some things will escape notice. Here are two overlooked picks from the San Diego Comic Con, along with some other ephemera.

At DC’s Vertigo panel, Derek McCulloch announced Gone to Amerikay, an original graphic novel about Irish immigration to the United States over the last 140 years that he worked on with Colleen Doran and Jose Villarubia. McCulloch described the book as a “historial epic with a crime story and a ghost story and a couple of love stories and all kinds of things in it”. Sounds intriguing. Here’s a preview:

gonetoamerikaypreview

Nate Powell, author of 2009’s Swallow Me Whole, a critically acclaimed comic about young siblings struggling with neurological disorders, premiered Any Empire, a new original graphic novel for Top Shelf Comics. In Any Empire, Powell explores childhood, fantasy, violence and the pervasive presence of military culture in America. Check out Chris Mautner’s interview with Powell for Robot 6. Any Empire is due in stores on August 9th. I can’t wait.

any empire 03

I love his use of negative space.

One Soul. A book by Ray Fawkes that simultaneously follows the lives of eighteen individuals from a number of time periods from gestation to maturity one panel at a time and weaves them into a narrative about spiritual journeys. It’s the kind of narrative that would make an excellent prose book or film, but a comic book? Fawkes raises the stakes by telling the stories in a unique manner that brings a mosaic to mind. In the words of iFanboy’s Paul Montgomery, “every page is part of a two page spread of 18 panels. Each of those panels is devoted to one of the 18 characters”. Confused? Check out an excerpt below.

ONE SOUL PREVIEW 33 - 34

I admit it, this is a cheat – this book was announced at C2E2 and is currently available at your local comic book shop, bookstore or Amazon, but I found out about it during SDCC, so I’m including it anyway.

Other Interesting Links

One More Thing: On July 28th, the US Southern District granted Marvel Comics’ motion for summary judgment against Jack Kirby’s estate, concluding that Kirby’s work for the publisher from 1958-1963 were “works for hire” as defined by the Copyright Act of 1909. In 1972, Kirby signed an adhesive agreement in which he assigned any property interest in any of the works he created for Marvel to the publisher. The Kirby heirs sought to terminate his assignment of his federally protected copyrights in these works purusant to the Copyright Act of 1976. After negotiations failed, Marvel went to court for an official declaration that it owned the property in question, since the agreement signed in 1972 also contained an acknowledgement that the work Kirby had done for Marvel was as an employee for hire. The court decided that there were no material issues of fact and that Marvel was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Read the decision (pdf) here and commentary from Colleen Doran here. This is a tragedy for the Kirby family, but it’s hard to imagine a different outcome.

As Judge McMahon wrote, “this case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real “creator” of Marvel characters, or wheether Kirby (and other freelance artists who cerated culturally iconic comic book characters for Marvel and other publishers) were treated “fairly” by companies that grew rich off the fruit of their labor”. It’s important to distinguish between natural and legal rights – the court system is not the only (and sometimes not the best) way to resolve controversies. There are other ways.

Stephen Bissette (artist of Swamp Thing, horror anthology Taboo and Tyrant) recognizes this distinction, and advocates for a fan boycott of Marvel products:

“I don’t question the legal logic Marvel’s attorneys made, and the court decision reflects. However, nothing is being said about the conditions under which Kirby signed, and was pressured to sign, the contracts presented. I don’t think “extortion” is too unfair a word to use, particularly in the very public case of the Marvel artwork “return” contracts.

That is a moral issue here, and Marvel’s pattern of decades of effectively slandering, maligning, and dimissing Kirby and his legacy is, too.

If, in the 1970s, Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson hadn’t rallied around Siegel & Shuster, who had multiple signed settlement contracts with National Periodicals to wield against them, agreements they had signed over their lifetimes (agreements they and their legal reps—like Albert Zugsmith—had negotiated), nothing would have changed.

Adams and Robinson brought to the public the moral case, the moral outrage, over the treatment of the creators of Superman.

At that time, the legal matters were considered “settled.”

C’mon, folks: Jack changed a century, the medium, the industry, our lives, and Marvel.

Let’s change how the rest of this onfolding story goes.”

Read the whole thing. It’s an incredibly compelling argument. I’m tempted to say that this won’t make a difference. Marvel is an extremely profitable arm of a multibillion dollar media company and is far less vulnerable to collective action than it was fifteen years ago. I don’t know if readers would be willing to forgo entertainment for an abstract principle – the last boycott was about the quality of the books being published. I wonder if the majority of fans even know who Jack Kirby is, other than Stan Lee’s sidekick. I fear that any call to collective action will reveal the reactionary vein in comic fandom. I’m afraid that it won’t matter. But even if it doesn’t make any difference at all, I don’t know if I can justify continued economic support of an unjust system.

July 19, 2011

DC: The New 52

Filed under: Articles — Tags: — Chris Eckert @ 1:08 pm

2011 will be a crucial year for DC Comics. In September, DC will relaunch its entire line of superhero books in a bid to expand its audience while holding on to the core of loyal readers. Over the coming months, we’ll see if DC has mastered the delicate art of pleasing everyone – the readers who abandoned the industry in the ’90’s, the potential readers who presumably want books that are both modern and accessible, and the core audience of existing fans with firmly established story and character preferences. It would be a significant challenge for the best run company. Oh yeah, and DC’s also introducing a “day and date” digital publishing initiative that’s scaring the hell out of some traditional retailers. It’s an exciting time for fans of mainstream American superhero comics. If a successful DC Comics emerges from this chaos, they may revolutionize the industry and become a real competitor to Marvel Comics. On the other hand, this could mark the beginning of the end for DC Comics as we know it.

In the middle of all of this tumult, we’re here to simplify things. The analysis of the digital initiative can wait for another day, as can any scorecards rating winners and losers within DC Comics. At the end of the day, the only thing we care about are good books. In that spirit, Chris and Jamaal have pored over press releases and early solicits to select the 17 books that may be worth picking up in September. (more…)

March 8, 2011

Retro Linkblogging: The Comic Reader #157 and #168

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , , — Chris Eckert @ 12:35 am

Here’s the latest news from over thirty years ago!

comicsreader157-168 (more…)

February 6, 2011

The Adventures of Ronald Reagan, American’s Comic Bookiest President

Filed under: Articles — Chris Eckert @ 4:52 pm

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Wilson Reagan, America’s first Movie Star President, and our fortieth Commander-in-Chief overall. Befitting his celebrity status, Reagan was all over the comic pages. I’m not talking about political cartoons, MAD Magazine send-ups, or his frequent appearances in Doonesbury and Bloom County. I’m talking about bonafide pulse-pounding action/adventure comics! Decades before Barack the Barbarian was inflicted upon this country, there was Reagan’s Raiders, a comic where the President and his cabinet were recast as ass-kicking warriors:

reagan's raiders

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Reagan x Funnybooks: 2009’s Obama issue of Amazing Spider-Man has nothing on the barrage of Reagan appearances in superhero universes. (more…)

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