Wait, What? Ep. 127: Capers

 photo 0512e0c4-0822-401d-9f23-de2ebe8ea461_zps36415092.jpgWelcome to my nightmare, ladies and gentlemen.  My terrifying longbox filled nightmare.

After the jump: very quick shownotes because I am running behind, and I have a tummy ache! (And I am apparently eight!)

(Oh, and check out those John K(UK) posts below, would you?  They're very good -- I'm not even a father but I felt a special paternal glow from having all those 2001 covers and splash pages reprinted.  The perfect gift!

So, yes.  I may punk out shownotes-wise, but the podcast itself does not--Two hours! No intermission!  As many exclamation points as a Steve Englehart comic!

0:00-11:48: Opening comments; the longbox project; steampunk; the search for comic book cockery. 11:48-28:23: Kick-Ass 2 Prelude: Hit-Girl.  One of us read it.  Who? And, more importantly: Why? 28:23-45:58: Also discussed:  Superman: The Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude trade paperback, with a discussion of Superman and his fortress through the years; Superman painting; Superman's friendships; Superman's robot; Superman's thong; and more. 45:58-51:48: Graeme has read Action Comics #21, and Superman #20, and has things to say about both. 51:48-1:04:48: And we both picked up Superman Unchained #1 by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, so there's some talk about that, too. 1:04:48-1:11:28: Pleased with his experience reading 2000AD digitally, Jeff has subscribed to Judge Dredd Megazine digitally.  Sadly, there's a whole weird intermission where Jeff goes off to find out what the digital graphic novel packed in with the Megazine is…and fails.  Enjoy, everybody!  (Turns out it was Downlode Tales Vol. 3 for 335 Black Light Vol. 1 for 336). 1:11:28-1:32:48: Batman: Zero Year (or Batman #21 as it's known in the colonies) by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo--also read by both Graeme and Jeff! We squabble, we tussle, we disagree about The Riddler. Sadly, Jeff brings up a potentially great topic--our five favorite Batman villains--and derails it just seconds later due to his befuddlement about Forever Evil.  Oh, Jeff. 1:32:48-end: Graeme has reread Brightest Day (because apparently this is our DC books from the library week).  We talk about whether or not the New 52 helped or hindered Johns' Aquaman pitch, whether the New 52 is stabilizing or destabilizing, and other delightful topics.  Also discussed:  Suicide Squad #21 by Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher; Supermag by Jim Rugg; Empowered Animal Style by Adam Warren and John Staton; Relish by Lucy Knisley; Jennifer Blood #28 by Mike Carroll & Kewber Baal ; Star Wars #6 by Brian Wood and Carlos D'Anda; the saddest afterword in the world; and more.  And then it is done!

Choosy mothers who choose Jif know that four out of five dentists listen to Wait, What? on iTunes, but the podcast is certainly available for you right here and  right now right below:

Wait, What? Ep. 127: Capers

As always, we hope you enjoy, and thank you for listening!

I have Read the Worst Comic I have ever read (this week)

Don't mean to overuse that headline (and, actually, it wasn't really Arsenal-level bad), but I thought that this week's Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search For Swamp Thing #1 was pretty inexcusably poor.


My practical knowledge of how Englishmen actually really and truly speak is mostly limited to watching BBC shows imported into America, and a few late-night phone conversations with Neil Gaiman, but I am fairly certain that no Englishman ever actually sounds anything like what Jonathan Vankin portrays here (which is weird, because his two Vertigo Pop series [Tokyo and Bangkok] seem fairly culturally sensitive)


It's like.... mm, "Dick Van Dyke IS John Constantine!", y'know?


That sucks, no doubt, but what I actually hated more was the portrayal of John Constantine that has him casually tossing off magic (foiling a robbery, knocking out Alfred via remote, entering the batmobile, entering The Green?!?!?! sheesh), and paying no price for any of it whatsoever. The thing about JC was that it was pretty unclear if he ever DID magic (at least in those original Swamp thing appearances), or if he was just good at tricking people, and that what we know he DID do, ALWAYS had a price, hopefully paid by someone else.


I might like to see that version of JC, especially in the waning days of the "old" DCU -- Batman getting turned into those weird backwards head babies or whatever, Hawkman going mad, and leaping out of a window without his wings or some shit -- but not this "a seedy Zatanna" version.


Also, like WHICH DCU is this taking place within? 'cuz, see, *I* remember Swamp Thing terrorizing Batman and Gotham City in a pretty spectacular way when they took Abbey from him. Batman knows alllllll about Swamp thing, so to have JC do the remedial version for him, or Batman to call ST "the hero of Star City" is.... well it's pretty fucking weird and awkward isn't it?


(This is what I dread about the nuDCU that is coming -- we'll get a new Superman who, likely, was never married to Lois Lane, yet "Identity Crisis still happened", which is like "Um, how?" That book had Superman worried about... Lois getting hurt.)


Even if you assume "Oh, it's Dick, and not Bruce", Swampy nearly destroying Gotham City HAD to have made the national nightly news, right?


Then there's that last few lines of dialogue (uh, spoiler warning, I guess?): "If Alec [Holland] [Also] came BACK with his OWN consciousness, well, then, mate, we'd all be in a RIGHT mess, then, wouldn't we?"


We would? Ah! Ah! FEAR the middle-aged failed-biologist who was dumb enough to believe the Government wasn't trying to weaponize his discoveries! SCARY!


There's absolutely nothing likeable about this comic book, and it not only fundamentally misunderstands john Constantine, but makes Batman look like a moron, as well. Nice trick!


This was pure CRAP, or as this comic might have put it: "Strewth, that was a right load of cobblers, oi, guv'nor?"


But, what did YOU think?





Events in mah brain!

It is April, and we're starting this year's cycle of event storytelling. I'm fairly unconvinced this is what the audience actually and truly wants -- at best I tend to think that the market supports them because its been sooooo long since we sold comics purely on the strength of the comics that we've forgotten anything BUT events, but I guess we'll see what shakes out.  

Clearly the market is reeling right now -- January and February were abysmal, and March not really that much better -- and there's a sense to me, at least, that this year's are "make or break" for the Marvel and DC universes in some fashion or another.


Not like comics will go away, of course, my big happy thought from WonderCon was that Larry Marder is still doing Beanworld, and getting paid to do so, and as long as THAT still happens, comics are just fine, thanks very much!


But that's something more to develop in a TILTING (which, huh, I should get to writing, shouldn't I?) -- this is to talk about the comics themselves.



FEAR ITSELF #1: In many many many ways, I think that the success of failure of an event can often be determined by looking at its "log line" or "elevator pitch" -- the one sentence summation of what the book is about. I'm not all that terrific at perfectly encapsulating them, for example I'm sure someone can come up with something more precise or sexy for CIVIL WAR than "Superheroes fight among themselves over liberty versus security", but that was pretty much what I used in '06, and it worked a charm, selling a bucketload of comics for me.


In the same way, DC's biggest recent hit, BLACKEST NIGHT, can be reduced to "Dead superheroes come back from the grave as murderous zombies" -- that the kind of thing people often say "Wow, cool!" to. The CLEARER the pitch, the more direct and large the sales.


FEAR ITSELF is a weird "event" comic -- I'll say straight up that I liked it pretty well. I have problems with bits of it (when don't I?): I thought the Avengers pro-Stark shilling was a bit.... strange, given the libertarian nature of some of the characters; I thought that the interactions between Thor and Odin were kind of heavy-handed; and I thought the lettering was oddly large, but all in all I liked the issue as I was reading it, and I'll even skip to the chase and say I thought it was pretty GOOD.


But I still can't log line it! Even after reading it! That's not a great situation.


I mean, I could say "An older pantheon of gods returns to kick the Asgardian's asses", I guess? But I don't think that's all there is to it, and, anyway, that sounds way too insider baseball for fan-off-the-street. Very very few people ACTUALLY care about "the Asgardians" as an abstract group, we have decades of sales information to clearly show that. And, clearly, Marvel is struggling with it as well, because THEY'VE yet to log line it themselves -- their marketing is all over the map, and not defining things in terms of story really. Even the title doesn't suggest what the story might be about.


Our first week sales were "fine" -- just a smidge above AVENGERS... but I have a hard time considering an event book a hit unless it does, say, twice, three times that. That's kind of the problem with Direct Market 2011 in a nutshell, in fact -- the bottom- and middle- sellers are no worse than flat, and even substantially up in a lot of cases, but the top-selling books have cratered to less than half of what they were 2-3 years ago. That's an ugly prospect.


I'm cool with the stock I have on hand -- worst case we'll sell out sometime right around the last issue shipping, but I *want* to have to go back for more, say, before issue #3 arrives in store.


Anyway, log-lines, yeah. That's the problem here. The comic is pretty GOOD, but I can't find the words to SELL it.



JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #622: Kieron Gillen's first issue, and also the first crossover tie-in to FEAR ITSELF, and I really REALLY liked it.  If you had said "Neil Gaiman wrote this" I might have believed you. Gillen's always been strong on plotting, but this brings his prose up to a new level, and I'm anxious to see how long he can sustain this questing story with Loki as a lead. I hope it's a real long time.  VERY GOOD.


FLASH #10: This is the second "prelude" issue to the upcoming Big DC event FLASHPOINT, and every problem I have with FEAR ITSELF is magnified widely for FLASHPOINT -- what the hell is it about? Well, I've figured out that the best thing to say is maybe "It's 'Age of Apocalypse' for the DC Universe", but if you don't already read comics (and lots of them), then I have to explain what AoA is, right? I guess you could also say "It's an 'Elseworlds' as an event", but same problem, right?


Comics ABOUT comics are kind of a hard sell.


The problem is compounded by the fact that FLASH has really been a dull book, to date. I *still* don't know what compelling narrative reason there was to bringing Saint Barry back in the first place, and I *like* DC's Silver Age.


What I *did* like about this issue was the *idea* of "Hot Pursuit" as being from Earth-47 (or whatever), and I'm intrigued about the rest of the heroes on what could potentially be a "no non-tech superpowers" world, but since I'm sort of expecting HP to *be* the bad-guy here, I suspect that is going to go nowhere? I also hope very very much I'm wrong, because isn't that more or less the plot of the first FLASH arc anyway?


Bottom line: There's nothing here that interests me, or, more importantly, creates more interest for FLASHPOINT, and a lot of what DC is doing this year would seem to depend on one or the other of those conditions being met? FLASH #10 was essentially EH.



BRIGHTEST DAY #23: I know that there's one more to go, and I should probably hold off until then just to see if they tie the loose ends well.... but I can't see how they can?


I guess I'm just flabbergasted that the POINT of an entire year of a series, not to mention the end of BLACKEST NIGHT seems to have been to return Swamp Thing to the DCU universe? Really? Realllllllly?


Then there's the "And what the FUCK did that have to do with a WHITE LANTERN?!?!" I mean the whole "lantern" concept seems sort of inherently more than about parochial Terran concerns, no? Or how about how this ties in with some of the other returnees most specifically Max Lord? Or how about, how do you return the Terran Earth elemental with a cat from Mars, and another one from frickin' thanagar?


Plus, Alec Holland's body? Meatless.


Plus plus, how are you returning SWAMP Thing to what's clearly meant to be a Northwestern city (like Portland or Seattle)? Meh.


I also think the cosmology, as already established in the DCU is kind of off -- Firestorm ALREADY was the Fire Elemental, and there was mm, whatsname, Niaid is it? as the Water one. I mean, those are DC comics, not Vertigo ones!


I don't know.


But, at the end of the day, I can't believe all that was leading to the return of Swamp Thing, because I'm a retailer and I know that no Swamp Thing comic NOT written by Alan Moore is going to be commercially successful within a year. So why waste all of the effort to reintroducing what, at very very very best will be a supporting character?


I thought this was pretty AWFUL.



ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN #157 and ULTIMATE AVENGERS VS NEW ULTIMATES #3: OK, now I *think* I see what they're going to do here, and it seems like they are going to kill "Spider-Man", presumably by completely crippling Peter Parker. Maybe they'll then turn Peter into the new Reed Richards of the Ultimate U, or, like "Professor P." running a team from his wheelchair or something. I guess there's some slight story potential there.


The thing is.... the thing is, as a marketing concept, they sold this entirely the wrong way. We had the postcards proclaiming "THE DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN!" on our counter for several weeks, and MANY people asked about it. "Yeah," says I, "It's in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN". "Oh," says them, "so not the 'real' one". I'd then try to convince them that USM is actually spiffy, indeed, but you can see the eyes glaze over.


So, yeah, by marketing it like this, especially with the 3 "prequel" issues, boldly bannered and all that, they're setting up some false expectations, at best. I guess that I feel that if they had just DID it, without trying to make it a marketing "event", that it would have caught everyone by surprise, and sales could have built up from the sheer buzz and audacity of it. But, by doing it "top down" like this, I think you're not going to get the kind of audience response that the Ultimate line desperately desperately needs right now.


I quite liked the Spidey portion of these two issues (GOOD), but thought the Avengers portion was overblown, and undercooked (EH)





Yeah, that's enough out of me. What did YOU think?



Everything Keeps Happening: Graeme Catches Up On Brightest Day's First Half Year

So, now we're past the halfway point of BRIGHTEST DAY (#13 came out last week, and it's a 27 issue series, I think - That'll be the 26 announced issues, plus the #0 launch), and I feel like I'm less sure about what the series is actually about than I was three months ago. Okay, that's not exactly true; it's become clearer, over the last few issues, that the series is on some meta level, about rebuilding each of the leads as a viable character to be spun off after the series ends - Firestorm and Aquaman in particular, I think, have had scenes where a character almost says "So this is your new status quo, now," and Hawkman and the Martian Manhunter are both in the middle of storylines clearly designed to give them more urgency and, potentially, new arch-villains - but as fun as that is, it doesn't necessarily help Brightest Day feel any more coherent. With the recent change in pacing - characters now disappear for issues at a time, letting those remaining have more space for their stories to advance, something that I think is working out better than the initial "everyone is in every issue" approach - the series is starting to feel more and more like multiple different series pushed together without a throughline to connect them all.

Part of that, perhaps, is that the throughline - What, most likely, is the Brightest Day storyline when all is said and done - has been pushed out by all the other bells and whistles (J'Onn isn't the last green martian alive! Aquaman's wife was originally out to kill him and by the way, the new Aqualad is Black Manta's son! Firestorm has somehow vomited out Deathstorm, the hopefully sarcastically-named Black Lantern Firestorm, who's recreated all the Black Lanterns! Hawkman is, oh holy crap, I'm not even sure I understand anymore or care!). What I loved so much about the series' quarter-way mark, was that Geoff Johns and Pete Tomasi seemed to explain why the characters had come back to life and give the series a point... and then the following six issues have pretty much backed away from that, with the exception of the barely-there (and pretty wasted) Deadman arc that gets a couple of pages every couple of issues.

Don't get me wrong, I'm actually enjoying the series for the most part - Hawkman storyline aside, and Firestorm is beginning to lose me, too - but the further we get into the run, the more and more it feels like things are beginning to slip out of control in terms of the writing, and the more I begin to worry that the end of the series will either be rushed, completely unsatisfying, or less of an end than a "To Be Continued In All of These Awesome New Series." For now, though, Brightest Day gets an uneven Good.

No Zero Issue Rage Shall Escape My Sight

Pardon me one moment, while I rant about one small thing concerning BRIGHTEST DAY #1. Namely, it's not the first issue. I know, I know; it's numbered "1", and the cover says "First Issue," but... it's really not. Not just in the sense of "There was an issue prior to this" (Although, you know, that should be a clue right there), but in the sense of, "There are no real introductions or beginnings in this 'first' issue, if someone picked it up cold and didn't know that there'd been an #0." Each of the story threads is already in progress, and the characters barely introduced. The first scene, in fact, picks up from the cliffhanger of the previous issue, which itself picks up from the end of Blackest Night #8. Beyond the number on the cover, there is nothing "first issue"-ish about this issue. Bad form, DC. (Don't get me wrong; I've got nothing against the idea of an #0, and DC have shown they can do it right: Blackest Night #0, and even this week's Superman: War Of The Supermen #0 - Whatever happened to that JG Jones cover, by the way? - did it "right," or close enough for me to be happy... Spend the #0 setting the scene and bringing new readers up to speed, but then open #1 with an introduction in and of itself. Speaking of SUPERMAN: WAR OF THE SUPERMEN #1 - Well, I didn't see that coming; guess I know why that last mini-series was called Last Stand of New Krypton, even though they won. It also signposts a way to end this whole storyline, but despite it being a low-Good, high-Okay read, I remain weirdly uncomfortable and unhappy with the brutality it has, and the casual treatment it gives what's a breathtakingly genocidal act - It's literally "Lots of people dead for cheap motivation! Let's get on with the ass-kicking!" so far, and I hope there's something more to this in future issues.)

With all of that out the way, Brightest Day #1 is... Okay, I guess? It's too early to make any real decisions or declarations about the series as a whole, but from the first two issues, it already feels scattered and out-of-control (due to scale, perhaps) in a way that its closest relative, 52, never did, perhaps because I'm already expecting the crossovers and stories tumbling in and out of this series the way that they did in Countdown. I'm also already worried that we'll see some kind of "They're all still Black Lanterns really!" reveal coming down the line, considering the Aquaman and Martian Manhunter scenes, which is pretty much 100% what I don't want from this series - I understand the value of the core narrative to keep fans engaged, but I'm already wearily wishing that the characters had been reborn without this mystery hanging over their heads, and that Brightest Day was a series really merely looking at how they dealt with returning to life. But that may explain why I don't work in comics.

What do the rest of you think?