Wednesday, June 29, 2011

If I were writing "Red Lanterns" for DC Comics...

this is totally what I would do...

See that absolutely adorable cat up there? That's Dex-Starr as drawn by DC artist extraordinaire Shane Davis (who is cute, but not nearly as hot as having a name like "Shane Davis" would lead you to believe...), and he's a cat. Not an alien that looks like a cat, he's a real live, honest to God cat (well...a real live in the comics Cat...). He also happens to be a vicious member of the Red Lantern Corps that vomits lava blood on his enemies. Don't hold that against him though, he's a good kitty.

Anyway, The Red Lantern Corps is getting their own series in September (you all MAY have heard something about this DC Comic relaunch thing?) and I don't know about writer Peter Milligan, but this is soooooo totally what I think needs to happen in this book.

Sometime in the first issue, you need to have Atrocicus (leader of the Red Lanterns) do something that makes Dex feel take him on a mission or something. Then, have Dex leave a dead alien bird or something on...well...Atrocicus probably doesn't have a porch...but in front of wherever he lives. Because cats do this sort of thing. It would be like Dex is trying to win back Atrocicus' love and affection.

Anyway...then you have this progress over the course of the first 12 issues or whatever...not EVERY issue, but every 2 or 3 issues have Dex-Starr feel jilted and leave Atrocicus a present of some dead thing, increasing in size.

In FACT: you can go from like...alien bird...something the size of a squirrel or rabbit...a cow...and then Stephanie Whatshername...that Batgirl chick that everyone is pissed about because she's not in the new relaunch. That would be AWESOME. Dex-Starr would get his own great running gag, and people would be happy because Stephanie Notworthmerememberingherlastname gets to be in a DCnU book!

Someone pass this along to Peter Milligan. He can use it, free of charge. :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

X-Men First Class to Last Issue...

Despite the fact that you can go to a comic book store right now and buy a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #663 and Fantastic Four #588, and that the book was once canceled back in the 1970's, Uncanny X-Men is Marvel Comic's longest running least, it will be up until October.

Marvel announced this morning that Uncanny X-Men will end at issue #544 to be published in October. While 544 issues is less than 633 (or 588) issues, both Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four have both ended their initial runs only to restart publication with new issue #1's only to see their original numbering restart at a later date. Technically, the Fantastic Four title (that ended publication with issue #588) was Fantastic Four volume 3. And while Uncanny X-Men was canceled in the 1970's, it never ceased publication. The last new and original story the title saw back then was in issue #66, and from issues 67-93 the title featured reprints of earlier stories. Regardless, in some form or another, the comic that launched in September of 1963 made its way on to shelves regularly for the past 48 years. More so, with Uncanny X-men being the only Marvel comic that has continued since the Silver Age, and DC Comics ending all of their books in August that technically makes Uncanny X-men the longest running super-hero book on the market for two months.

There's no mention in Marvel's press release about a new Uncanny X-men #1 for November...nor is there any word on what will happen to X-Men Legacy or X-men, ancillary titles that were launched in 1991 and 2010 respectively. It's hard to believe that Marvel would just walk away from the X-Men, once their best selling and most popular franchise, but regardless, the ending of this book is still newsworthy.

The X-men have kind of seen themselves written into a corner over the last 10 years. Fans of the movies can sum up the premise of the book as "Mutants struggling to find acceptance in a world that fears them while fighting against evil mutants looking for dominance." And up until the late 2000's that would have accurately described the comics as well. But when Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada decided that there were too many Mutants in the Marvel Universe he put into place a story called "House of M" where the daughter of Magneto, the Scarlet Witch, reduced the mutant population to around 200. After that story, Cyclops found himself the de facto leader of the Mutant population when he did what X-men founder Charles Xavier and his opposing number Magneto could not: uniting the Mutant population in a nation-state of Utopia (a floating asteroid off the coast of San Francisco). For the last few years, Uncanny X-men has become a book full of a rotating cast of Mutants who, depending on how you look at it, got what they've wanted since 1963.

The ending in October will come after a storyline called "Schism". While the details on this story have been kept under wrap, one thing is known: the story will focus on a difference of opinion between Cyclops and long-time X-Man Wolverine (you all know who that is, right?). Described as "The X-Men's Civil War", the story will end with a divide that will split the X-men and more than likely the united Mutant population. Conceivably, this will put the Marvel Universe with two fractions of X-men: Cyclops team, and Wolverine's team.

Under Marvel's current publishing scheme, there are three X-Men books: X-Men Legacy (the 1991 title) that has its own team and adventures (based out of Utopia), X-Men (the 2009 title) that has a rotating team of mutants (also based off of Utopia), and Uncanny X-Men which is centered on Utopia and is kind of like the big family book of 200 Mutants. So when you look at it like that, it almost makes sense that Uncanny X-Men will end after the "Schism" storyline.

Like I said, I harbor no illusion that the X-Men are going away after October (after all, not only are there three books with X-men in the title, there are a whole crap load of other books associated with the X-men published by Marvel as well), but the idea that Uncanny X-Men, Marvel's longest running title is ending is bittersweet nonetheless.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Importance of Being Batgirl

If you've been paying ANY sort of attention lately, you know I've been acting a fool for the past few days ever since learning that Barbara Gordon would be returning to the role she debuted in back in 1966 - Batgirl. For me, this has been the comic book announcement that couldn't be more welcomed as this year marked the turning point where Barbara had been the in the role of the wheelchair bound Oracle longer than she had ever been swinging around Gotham City in tights and a pointy mask. What I guess I wasn't expecting was that there would be an equal number of voices out there who would be vehemently opposed to this reversal.

Case in point, a blogger with a far wider audience than I have, whose thoughts on the subject can be found here:

Now, to be fair, I cannot truly relate to where this author is coming from. I'm blessed and fortunate enough to be as physically healthy as I want to be. But while I'm not disabled in any way, I know plenty of people in my life who are, including my own father. And while that doesn't mean I know what it's like, it does mean that I can at least understand and appreciate the fact that a lot of what I take for granted is something they wish they could simply do on their own. And out of all of the people I know who have a physical disability, not one of them would, if given the opportunity to be restored to full health, choose to remain disabled. Not one of them would pass up the opportunity to regain the full use of their bodies; to run; to jump; to not have to call 911 if they slipped while trying to move from their wheelchairs to their bed... to be able to bathe themselves...or be able to eat. Unfortunately, we don't live in a world where that's really possible...but Barbara Gordon does.

Barbara (or, Babs) was introduced during a period of lightheartedness in the Batman books that is long since gone. She was a fun character, full of life and youthful energy. She was a nice foil to not only Batman's villains, but also Batman himself. She first appeared in Detective Comics, and then a year later became a main character in the popular (but campy) Adam West Batman television series and then made the move to the comic books soon thereafter. She remained a staple of the Batman mythos for almost 20 years before DC Comics decided it was time to retire the character for whatever reason. Ironically, the comic that saw Babs hang up her tights and utility belt was the first comic book that DC ever produced that was eponymous with the character.

Now, if the story had simply ended there, we wouldn't be where we are today. But it didn't...a year or so later, comic book writer Alan Moore (the same guy responsible for Watchmen) penned what is (In my honest opinion) the single worst comic book ever published, the graphic novel entitled "Batman: The Killing Joke".

Meant to illustrate the similarities of how Batman and his arch nemesis the Joker came to be, the graphic novel is most remembered for how the Joker showed up at the home of Police Commissioner Gordon and rang the doorbell. When Barbara (no longer Batgirl) answers the door, Joker pulls out a gun and shoots her. If this weren't bad enough, while it's never explicitly stated in the comic (or any subsequent issues), it's heavily implied that he shoots her in her vagina. The bullet shatters her spine and paralyzes Barbara Gordon from the waist down.

And if THAT wasn't bad enough...the Joker then strips her naked and takes pictures of her...naked, bleeding out on the carpet, clutching at her wound (which, as I said, is heavily implied to be her vagina).

Joker then kidnaps Commissioner Gordon, leaving Barbara naked and helpless on the floor of her father's home. He takes Gordon to his lair, strips him naked, and then proceeds to psychologically torture him in an attempt to drive him insane. As you can imagine, when Batman finally catches up to the Joker, he beats his oldest nemesis to death, rips his head off his neck and then takes a giant-sized bat-shit down his neck...after all, that is simply the most logical thing to do when an absolutely insane psychopath cripples one of your old partners and demonizes your closest friend...

Of course, if you read the comic, you'd know that wasn't the case at all. The Killing Joke actually ends with Batman capturing the Jokerand handing him over to the Gotham City police to once again be incarcerated until he escapes to terrorize innocent citizens once again. But, because that would be a really shitty ending, before he's led off by the Police, Moore has the Joker tells Batman a joke. The comic actually ends with Batman and the Joker laughing hysterically together at the joke like two old friends.

Now, just to make sure you've been paying attention: Barbara Gordon, who from her first appearance was a hero who was able to hold her own alongside Batman and Robin, was shot...not in the line of duty, but answering the door to her father (the Police Commissioner)'s home. That right there should be Strike One. The disrespect factor is set at 10 right from there. Not only would you NEVER see an established male character being taken down in their civilian identity, you'd never see an established male character being so stupid as to answering their door in the middle of the night without checking to see who it was (as a side note...if the Joker has escaped from his asylum...AGAIN, wouldn't the Police Commissioner probably know that and be extra guarded?).

Not only is she shot, but she's shot in the vagina. Strike Two. Again, you'd never see Superman or Batman getting their balls shot off. It's (once again) disrespectful, and only goes to show the level of misogyny present in this story.

She's stripped naked...and photographed. Only recently, as an afterthought, was a DC comic published that clarified that Joker did NOT rape her as she lay there bleeding, but you'd certainly be forgiven for thinking that if you didn't read the Page 6 retraction 20 years after the fact. Even though her father is later also stripped naked and tortured, Commissioner Gordon is just a supporting character in the comic books. While a police man is a REAL hero in the real world, in the Batman world he's just second fiddle. When Jason Todd (the second Robin) died a few years later after getting beat to death by a crowbar and then blown up in a warehouse, his Robin costume was still in tact. Superman (in the death of Superman story) was beaten by a monster with spikes protruding from his knuckles, yet 80% of his costume remained on him. So Strike Three.

That's an OUT if there ever was one. The Batman laughing the whole thing off with Joker at the end is enough to have the entire team ejected from not only the game, but the entire league (yes, I'm mixing metaphors here horribly)...and if you find yourself wondering how something this horrible and depraved could have actually made it past the Batman editor and actually published, well...the editor was the one who (honestly and literally) exclaimed gleefully at the top of his lungs "Yes! Cripple the Bitch!" after hearing Moore's idea for the story.

Let me repeat that: "Yes!" (with a exclamation mark), "Cripple the Bitch!"

Now, to be fair, another comic book writer; John Ostrander did his best to restore Barbara to a role of prominence within the comics by turning her into the cyber wizard Oracle (think Watchtower from the Smallville TV show, only in a wheelchair), and subsequent authors like Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone made her one of the most important characters in the DC universe. And while a good portion of comic book readers may only know Barbara as Oracle, the fact remains that what was done to her was misogynistic and just plain sick.

Encompassing all of this is the fact that not long after she was crippled, Batman (yes, THE Batman) had his back broken by rookie supervillain Bane. Bruce Wayne, confined to a wheelchair like Barbara Gordon, handed off the role of Batman to another vigilante. Of course, that lasted roughly a year, and while the new comer protected Gotham City, Bruce used the resources that are present in this fictional world to heal himself and not only walk again, but swing from building to building without so much as the need for an occasional Vicodin.

And you know what happened when Bruce healed and became Batman? No one blinked an eye. No one stood in protest and demanded that he remain in a wheelchair to inspire real life people with disabilities. No, fans were excited because THE Batman was back. Of course, if there was an issue where Bruce offered to take Barbara to the same healers he saw, I never read it...but I have read enough issues of Birds of Prey (a series that featured Oracle as one of its main characters) to know that Barbara eschewed several attempts to heal herself. Why? REALLY good or convincing reason was ever given. She was a normal woman shot by a normal bullet by a normal (insane) man. There's no reason that she would have given to be able to heal herself and be able to live her 'normal' life again. Even if SHE preferred to be Oracle rather than Batgirl, why wouldn't she choose to be able to be Oracle with the ability to walk and go to the bathroom without some sort of assistance?

I, as a minority, understand the need to have heroes who represent us. I would be PISSED if Marvel decided that Northstar or Hulkling we're going to "make the switch" and start chasing women...but they were gay from Day One. They weren't made to be gay because some twister writer came up with the idea and an editor screamed "Yeah, Fuck his Ass!"

Has Oracle been an inspiration to people living with disabilities? Clearly as referenced in the linked to post she has. But that doesn't change that what was done to her was fueled by the callousness of a man in a depraved storyline (Moore, not the Joker). There's no reason that Babs should have been left in a wheelchair while Bruce was able to cast his aside without a second thought. If Superman can come back from the dead, and Bruce Wayne can walk again, then any reason that was given both in story and in real life as to why Barbara Gordon was confined to a wheelchair was bunk and an excuse to perpetuate one of the most sickening and misogynistic storylines in popular culture. Making Barbara Gordon Batgirl again, and doing so in the pages of her own series isn't recanting on the promises of a diverse's justice.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Brave and The Bold: my thoughts on DC Comics' big announcement...

If you don't know what DC Comics has planned for September, you've either been living like the Amish for the past 24 hours, or just don't care. Yesterday, the news broke that the second largest comic book publisher is planning on ending all of their books in August of this year and then restarting their line in September with over 50 titles, each starting at issue #1.

Whether you realize it or not, this is HUGE. This is perhaps literally a make-or-break moment for the company who is responsible for such iconic characters as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Not only will DC relaunch their books with an issue #1, but they're also rebooting them in order to make the characters more accessible, relatable, and modern. This isn't a cash-grab for DC, this is a Hail Mary pass with the hopes that the outcome is survival.

Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman all debuted within a window of time between 1938 and 1941. Both in real life and in their stories, they (and their friends) have survived attacks by Super Villians, multiple World Wars (and/or military conflicts), fluctuating economies, and changes in distribution. However within the last ten years or so, they've found themselves staring down a enemy that whether faced together or separate seems undefetable: Their Future.

Comics, on average, used to sell over 150,000 copies a month. Back in the 60's and 70's, they used to sell about 500,000 copies a month. Now, the number one title each month sells MAYBE 100,000 copies. A book is considered 'safe' from cancelation if it sells more than 15,000 copies (as opposed to back in the late 1970's when comics were canceled abrubtly when publication slipped below 40,000).

Here's a little bit of Comic Book trivia: In the not so distant past (and possibly still today, but I don't think so...) Comic Book sales and market share we based off of Batman sales. The way to rank how well a comic sold was to compare the number of copies ordered each month to the number of copies Batman was ordered on a rolling 12 month comparison. Batman was the benchmark that all other titles were compared to...these days, Batman's title barely cracks the Top 50 comics sold every month.

The reason for this failure varies on who you ask. Two of the most popular reasons are that "Kids don't care about comics anymore", because they have TV and Video games. To this end, DC is coupling this line-wide reboot with the ability to get their 'books' digitally at the same time you could go to the store and buy paper versions. Kids like their entertainment digitally? Good, now they can get comics the same way they update their Angry Birds app!

Another reason of the biggest reasons, is 'continuity'. As stated, these characters have been around over 70 years, and when a comic is published monthly for 70 years, you can tell a LOT of stories...some might say EVERY SINGLE STORY imaginable (I'm not going to rehash this...go find my entry about the 'new' Wonder Woman from about a year ago...). This makes it hard for new readers (presumably kids...) to know what's going on because they are walking in to the middle of things, and that it's daunting for a new reader to start reading a book that's at issue #900 or so. Ooookay....but if this were actually the case, then why not just restart the books every year in January with a new #1? The first issue of X-men I ever picked up was #183 and I had no problem figuring out the story, despite having missed out on 182 previous's a decent argument if the person you're making it to doesn't bother to try and refute it, but there's really no evidence to back it up. It goes hand in hand with the idea that since there are no NEW readers, and that the current readers have been reading forever (BTW, as you've probably figured out, this is kind of valid as I've been reading X-Men ...NOT a DC comic...for like 355 months here...), the stories skew more to adult tastes than kids...but this seems easily dismissable as well. Comics have been written with a sophisticated flair since the 1970s when you had stories like Green Lantern and Green Arrow's teenage sidekick addicted to heroin, and Jean Grey commit suicide in front of her long time boyfriend. And if kids can read Harry Potter with it's more-than-Mickey Mouse level plotlines, or garbage like Twilight, then they can certainly handle what should be normal super-hero fare. YES, you have plot lines that are more complex than Superman helping Lois Lane resuce her pet cat from the Terrible Toy Man, but you also don't have plot lines that are going to turn the children of today into the Jeffery Dhamers of tomorrow...

So, yeah...DC seems to have addressed a lot of problems here with this move: Comics are going to be available digitally, and they're going to be more 'accessible' to people who haven't devoted decades to following the character's adventures. I'm almost exclusively a Marvel Comics fan, but I've committed to picking up at least 5 of these new DC titles in September, even though I don't know for sure that they'll even be published...Good Job DC Comics...too bad I still think this is a move that will only add a couple of more lifeboats to the Titanic that is the Comic Book industry...

When I was a kid, I picked up my first Super Hero comic (the aforementioned Uncanny X-Men #183) from a wire spinner rack near the front door of a drug store in my hometown of Davenport Iowa. Right down the street, was a 7-11 store that had not one, but two comic book spinner racks. They were $.65 each, and I only had a vague idea of when the next issue would be out. I would ride my bike or walk down to one of those stores weekly or so to see what they had available, and would get excited when there was something that looked cool or that I wanted. I would buy them, take them home, read them, and re-read them, and cut out pictures, and step on them, and just enjoy the living heck out them. It was probably a year or two before I even knew that comic book stores existed, and a year or two after that before I cared enough about my comics to put them in plastic bags with cardboard behind them in order to protect them from getting 'ruined'. Sadly, while this is something that millions of kids did alongside me and before me, this is NOT an experience that can currently be recreated by future generations. In case you weren't aware, Comic Books, are basically extinct.

It is extremely difficult, if not literally impossible, to accidentally stumble upon a comic book these days. If you want one, you have to go looking for them. They're sold almost exclusively at specialty stores because they're distributed through a single source that tightly controls where you can buy these books. And they're not $.65 anymore either. A single comic book will cost you at least $2.99. To collect these things in this day and age, a consumer has to be dedicated to finding them and paying for them. Kids today know who Batman is, but they know Batman because of cartoons and movies, not because they picked up a Batman comic at the grocery store to look at while their mom was busy chit-chatting with a friend from church.

A perfect example of this is the name 'Batgirl'. If you say 'Batgirl' to someone who isn't a comic book reader an image is immediately conjured up of a girl in a black, yellow, and blue costume with a mask like Batman's and with long red hair hanging on her shoulders. This character has appeared in multiple Batman cartoons and video games, had action figures hanging in toy departments, and adorns retro apparel for girls and women in major retail stores from Hot Topic to Walmart...of course as any comic book fan will tell you, this character hasn't 'existed' in the books for over 20 years. If this isn't a decent example of the relevancy of the Comic Book medium to the characters themselves, I'm not sure what is...

As a comic book reader, and a proponent of the industry as a whole, I'm excited to see a company try something this bold and daring. And, quite frankly, I'm eager to see Marvel's almost mandatory response to it...It's almost a given that DC will dominate sales for the last 4 months of 2011 as the readers they have, new and curious comic book fans, and retailers try to figure out their new status quo, but ultimately, I have concerns about how 'successful' this move will be. Yes, the books are going to be available on line, but for how much an issue? You don't have printing costs, so the $2.99 price tag should come down...however, you don't want to make it too skewed in favor of digital copies, lest you risk screwing over the comic shop owners of the world. If a digital copy of Superman only costs $1.00 who won't opt for that over a $3 hard copy? Heck, like I said above, I plan on trying out at least 5 (right now imaginary) titles...if their siginificantly cheaper online, I may expand that selection accordingly...BUT, that's all speculation. In order to save the comic book industry, these books MUST be priced affordably. Even taking into account the rising cost of goods and services, $.65 for a comic book was a good deal back in the 80's. A cassette tape was $10, a CD was $15. Movies (then on VHS) were $20, and video games were $30. You could buy 46 comic books for the price of one video game. Today a CD is $10, a DVD is $15, and a video game is $50. Meanwhile, a comic book is $3. Someone who wants to buy a gift for a kid who likes superheroes can go to Target or Walmart and buy an entire season of cartoons based on these characters for $30...that's more expensive than a comic book, yes, but less cost effective. $50 for 22 hours of entertainment versus $3 for 22 pages of a story that WILL continue next month, and the month after, and the month after that...

And then of course there's the fact that, digitally available or not, these comics are still unavailable to a new audience. Comic Book shop or digital store, a person who wants to buy a copy of the new Batman #1 still has to go looking for the story to purchase. There still won't be a handful of these on display at Walgreens or HyVee for kids to flip through and decide it they want to take it home and then hunt down the next issue when it comes out. People can not, and WILL NOT buy something if they don't even know that they're able to...and that doesn't seem to have been taken into account too much with DC's relaunch.

So, yeah...good idea, but it seems to be executed with "not quite there" precision. It's all over the news today, but you can't go get the 'new' comics until September...there's a problem there as well. Again, I'm a bigger Marvel Comics fan than I am DC fan, but that's not necessarily why I'm waiting to see their response to this, and hoping they do it better. I'm hoping they do it better so that this 'big step' can be improved upon, allowing the industry to continue on a thrive.

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