Variants on a theme.

§ April 19th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, retailing § 15 Comments


Man of Steel #1 in 1986 is generally considered to be Patient Zero for the variant cover marketing strategy in the comics marketplace. You had the standard cover on the left, with a cover layout duplicated by the other five issues in the series. Then on the right you had the fancypants cover with the metallic ink an’ such. Both were available in comic shops, but only the standard cover could be found on newsstands.

I mean, sure, it’s understandable that DC would want to go through the extra effort of slapping a second cover on the first issue of this series. This was, after all, a complete revamping — a “reboot,” if you will, perhaps you’ve heard that term — of their flagship character by a superstar creator. This comic was indeed A Big Deal, and doing somethin’ a little special to make it stand out was certainly warranted.

Now, did fans end up buying both covers? Not all, I’m sure (I myself just got the comic shop-only cover…I liked the design of the standard covers, but I thought Clark’s pants looked weird), but certainly a non-zero percentage of consumers couldn’t decide between one or the other and solved the dilemma by taking one of each home.

This is of course not including the sales to speculators, a market segment that would absolutely explode in the 1990s but certainly existed prior to that. (See also Shazam! #1 and Howard the Duck #1 from the 1970s.) I’ve experienced more than one acquisition of books from investment collections containing stacks of Man of Steel issues. But if I could hazard a guess…I think comic companies began to learn that not just speculators but your regular readership could be convinced to pick up more than one copy of the same book.

Look, some fans were doing that anyway. The “buy one to save, one to read” thought process had been there for years. Whether the idea is “I’ll have a back-up if my reader copy falls apart,” or “I’ll have a mint copy for resale” borne of either a genuine belief in a return on investment, or some kind of self-justification for still buying these things, it doesn’t matter. But those were purchasing decisions, both small scale extra copies here and there and the bulk investment procurement, were made independently of the publisher’s efforts. Sure, DC and Marvel and whoever else can throw “COLLECTOR’S EDITION!” blurbs across the covers but c’mon, no one falls for that any more.

But two covers? With two different images? That’s something a publisher could do to encourage duplicate purchasing. Granted, likely not a lot, but not nuthin’, either. Naturally the burden is on the retailers, particularly in the direct market, to try to determine order numbers on a comic with two different covers. Not just the “how many customers will buy both” question, but the more basic issue of “which cover will generate more demand?” What if one cover is preferred over the other? What if one cover is a complete dud nobody wants, and you’re stuck with that cover while selling out quickly of the other? Surely most customers wouldn’t have that binary a preference…yeah they’d like that one cover, but oh you only have the other, sure that’s fine.

If the variant cover on Man of Steel #1 didn’t help sales a least a little upon release, we probably wouldn’t have seen more of them shortly thereafter. Of course, we did, such as these specific parodies of Man of Steel and its two covers by Boris the Bear and the one-off parody comic Man of Rust.

And DC itself had a big variant cover rollout again in 1989, when they published Legends of the Dark Knight #1, as part of the big movie-inspired Bat-push that year:


This time it appeared as if DC was testing the limit of what actually “counted” enough as a variant cover to generate multiple-copy purchases by consumers who wouldn’t ordinarily do so. These were just “extra” covers, attached over the comics regular cover, printed with four different colors. Now, I wasn’t involved in the retail end of the comic business when Man of Steel rolled out in ’86, but I was definitely behind the counter in ’89, and I do vaguely recall grumbling from both customers and retailers about this blatant marketing ploy.

Actually printed on the inside of these extra covers was a message from the editor, explaining why the extra covers:


“The four colors are just for fun,” it says, but they’re also for goosing the collectors out there into buy more copies. EDIT: Now as it turned out, and I had forgotten about (but reminded my readers James and BobH), the reasoning behind these covers was that preorders were so high, again this being the time of the Batman movie-inspired craze, that it was feared it would be too many for retailers to sell and the market would be flooded. As such, these multi-colored additional covers were printed and affixed over the regular covers. And the reasoning for this was, clearly, to encourage collectors to buy more than the one copy.

And I promise you, as a fella working the register at a comic book store in 1989, I sold plenty of sets of all four covers gathered off the shelf by members of our clientele. And there have been plenty of these sets spotted in boxes of books brought back to me to sell over the ensuing decades.

If all it takes is just different colors to boost orders and sales, what other minimal perceived value-adds can be given to books to get folks’ wallets out? Maybe just prepacking a comic in a sealed polybag right out of the gate? Or having to buy every version of one issue, each packed with a different trading card, to get a full set? There can’t be any way those ideas would work.

More on variant covers coming next time, informed in part by your great responses to this post from last week. Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll be back here in a couple of days.

Seeking your input on variant covers.

§ April 16th, 2021 § Filed under question time § 37 Comments

Look, I spent a long time putting together a post about the retail impact of variant covers, and it’s not quite coming together and it’s too late to keep polishing it and I know I’m leaving stuff out. SOOOOO…I’m gonna save it for Monday, and do a little consumer polling today.

Thus, my questions to you are:

  • What makes you buy a variant cover?
  • Do you buy multiple covers for the same comic? Regularly, or just on special occasions?
  • Do variant covers turn you off from buying a comic?
  • Do you mind paying more for a variant cover (whether it’s a buck more for DC’s cardstock covers, or higher premium prices for those incentive ratio — i.e. 1/10, 1/25, etc.– variants)?
  • Have you ever been tricked by a variant cover featuring a character or situation not in the comic itself? (Like, grabbing one of those Deadpool anniversary covers thinking Deadpool would be inside?)
  • Have you bought variants for comics you don’t regularly buy because of their “theme” (like, again, you’re a Deadpool fan and you wanted all those covers)?
  • Anything else about variant covers you’d like to say?

Please leave responses in the comments…you don’t have to answer all the questions, and you can be anonymous if you want (if you leave your email in the comment form, I won’t out you, I promise). You can even email me, too (at mike at progressiveruin dot com) if you’re more comfortable with that.

Thanks, pals!

“Art is any Swamp Thing you can get away with.” – Andy Warhol (paraphrased)

§ April 14th, 2021 § Filed under pal plugging, swamp thing § 2 Comments

Look at these cool drawings customer Sarah gave me a little while back! The first is of that mossy gentleman Swamp Thing:


And the second is of a critter from the “Rotworld” storyline from the New 52 era…sorry if I don’t recall his/her/its name, as I haven’t committed that particular run to memory:


Pretty cool, right? Thanks to Sarah for gifting me with these fine pieces, and you can see more of her work at her Instagram thingie.

Yes, I know about the song from Avenue Q.

§ April 12th, 2021 § Filed under comic strips § 4 Comments

So a long time ago, your pal Mike was a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he eventually graduated with a B.A. in English, thus essentially ensuring his eventual fate as a comic book store owner.

Now UCSB was gifted with a fine (and free — it was for college students, after all) daily newspaper, the Daily Nexus, which I would habitually grab out of one of the many on-campus racks when I arrived for the day. It was always informative and interesting and…well, fun.

One of the fun bits about it that appealed to me were, of course, the comic strips. Both the standard nationally-syndicated strips (like Bloom County, Doonsebury, and (as part of ad campaigns by local eateries) Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side), as well as homegrown material.

A strip I regularly followed was Fresh-Man, for which I was lucky enough to pick up a collection from the school bookstore at the time. I wrote about that collection a decade back.

Fresh-Man ran in the Nexus during, appropriately enough, my freshman year. And there was another strip original to the paper that I followed and enjoyed that same year, but, lacking a reprint book that I’ve had for decades like the Fresh-Man one, I could not for the life of me recall the name. Even more aggravating was that a character or two from this strip have cameos in a Fresh-Man strip in that collection, but no indication of the name of the comic from which they were visiting.

A number of years ago it dawned on me that perhaps I could delve into the online archives of the Daily Nexus, which they must surely have, and I could finally resolve this admittedly minor issue in short order. At the time this first occurred to me, however, the archives that did exist only extended back, I don’t know, a decade or maybe two, and not nearly far enough to cover the middish-late-ish 1980s that I required.

Then a few weeks ago, I decided to check again, and lo, full archives for the Nexus (and its preceding publications) are now available for virtual perusal in PDF format, dating back to 1923! HOKEY SMOKES. And it’s text-searchable, even! (Yes, I looked up my own name…only hit was a police officer by the same name quoted in an article. I didn’t make much of an impression while I attended, I’m afraid.)

Anyway, FOUND THE STRIP:


Yes, it’s a little Bloom County/Doonesbury-esque in presentation, as were, um, many amateur strips that ran in, I’m sure, every college paper. But the personalities and situations that occupied this strip entertained me, dealing with college life and commenting on real world happenings, some light political satire, and so on. It was fun, and I’m glad to revisit it again. Maybe some of the gags, um, haven’t aged well (Jessica Hahn, anyone?) and perhaps aren’t the most politically correct from a modern perspective, but whaddaya want from a decades-old college strip? That’s, like, par for the course. (By the way, that’s the titular Miller who’s in bed in the first panel.)

I didn’t mention the cartoonist’s name in the text of this post because I didn’t want it Google-able, in case that would cause a problem for him (and I’m about 99% positive I did find him online). I failed to do the same for the artist of the Fresh-man strip way back when in my post about that, but I think the only result was that his wife found my post and commented on it. Anyway, don’t bother the fella on my behalf if you track him down…it’s enough that I can go through the Nexus archives and enjoy his strips again after all these years.

After Miller’s Tale and Fresh-Man left the pages of the Nexus, other strips came along to fill the void. I’m sure I enjoyed them well enough, and I poked my digital nose into some later editions of the paper to sample some. Nothing sticks out as being quite as memorable as these two strips, however…most are fine, a couple look like they’re gag strips but [JOKE NOT AVAILABLE], and none of them stuck in my brain for decades.

In addition to feeding my comics nostalgia, I also want to dig through the archives trying to find names of various local bands of the time and seeing if I can find any of their recordings now. If you follow my Twitter, you know, I’ve been digitizing some of the music I purchased during my college days from the music stores near the school, including nigh-forgotten bands like “Alice Fell” — the one reference for which I found online was someone who was a huge fan of theirs, and in fact one of their roommates, who claimed they never actually recorded anything! I emailed the fella and sent him a photo of my Alice Fell cassette (with the hand-painted J-card!) but never heard back.

Also looking up articles about my girlfriend and her twin sister from their time on the UCSB women’s volleyball team…least ’til my girlfriend transferred to Pepperdine to play for their team. …Hmm, wonder if Pepperdine has extensive archives for their school paper? That’s all I need, another rabbit hole to fall into.

Okay, one more thing…while poking through the various Nexii, I found this notice the paper had put in place of that day’s Bloom County:


Anyway, thought that was amusing.

That author is Alan Moore, in case you didn’t know or couldn’t guess.

§ April 9th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, fantagraphics, Uncategorized § 7 Comments

So when I crack open the shipping boxes from my distributor(s), it’s not often that I’m caught off guard by what I find inside. …Okay, wait, scratch that, I am frequently surprised by stuff like getting a single plastic Legion of Super-Heroes ring by itself in a full-sized box, or even this week, when I received 53 extra, unordered copies of a variant for the new Magic: The Gathering comic.

What I mean by “surprised” in this case is a good surprise, as I’d completely forgotten that I ordered copies of this for the shop:


This is a treasury-sized reprint of the classic story from issue #2 of the 1986 Anything Goes anthology. It was a surprise because I 100% forgot I’d ordered it and that it was coming.

The story itself is 13 pages, presented here in full color and looking possibly even more beautiful than it did in its original appearance. The rest of this 24-page publication is mostly text (with some illustrations), addressing the creation of the comic, what Anything Goes was for (raising legal costs for Fantagraphics), talking a bit about the fact The Author’s name isn’t on the cover, that sort of thing.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t read this yet. I mean, the original comic I read plenty of times since its initial publication, as I was one of those guys buying Anything Goes as it came out, and I was in the bag for anything The Author was writing (thanks to his Swamp Thing work, natch). But there are a couple of nice alternate covers for In Pictopia by the story’s primary artist, Don Simpson, in here, which apparently were art commissions or for a planned reprinting that didn’t happen.

I did catch somewhere in here where it said the story was “much anthologized,” which I wondered about. The only place I could come up with off the top of my head is the 1990 Fantagraphics collections Best Comics of the Decade (which I also own), and the Grand Comics Database entry I linked above mentions a 2016 collection. I don’t know of others, but honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me.

A quick Googling around seems to reveal at least some of the backmatter in this book had appeared on Simpsons’ own blog, but that’s fine. It’s nice to have a print copy in hand that I can still read long after the internet is destroyed for the good of humanity.

What’s funny is that I almost missed ordering this…it’s stuck in my head as being titled just “Pictopia,” and that extra preposition was enough to throw me off just a tad. Plus, not seeing The Author’s name in the credits also misled me to a degree…look, when I’m doing my orders, I have tons of different solicitations in the catalog all vying for my attention so sometimes even the most obvious things can take a moment to make it through my occasionally-working eyeballs and into my brain.

And then on top of that, once the hamsters started to turn the wheels in my head a little more quickly and I realized what “In Pictopia” was, not seeing The Author’s name made me think “wait, are they doing new Pictopia stories without him?” Yes, I actually thought that for half a second. Well, okay, maybe a full second. It just didn’t dawn on me that maybe Mr. The Author wanted his name off more than ancillary Watchmen products. (And actual Watchmen and other DC releases, too, but given the existence of Doomsday Clock it’s fair to say the “Keeping The Author Happy” boat has long sailed, at least for the comic books.)

Despite all that, this In Pictopia tabloid is a great looking package, presenting the comic in a good ‘n’ big size, with what looks like pretty dense discussion of it accompanying the story. The comic itself is an allegory for the comics medium and the crushing of the old in favor of the new…so on the nose that it barely counts as an allegory and is more an explicit description of what The Author thought was happening at the time. I suppose the follow-up I briefly imagined would involve a thinly-disguised Raina Telgemeier rushing in to save the day.

It still holds up a good, and melancholy, tale. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It remains a concise, pointed masterpiece.

Should also note the contributions of Mike Kazaleh, Pete Poplaski and Eric Vincent, so that the guy who doesn’t want his name involved isn’t ironically the person I refer to the most here.

Please don’t write in about the Starlog thing.

§ April 5th, 2021 § Filed under collecting § 2 Comments

So the other day, on some streaming app or ‘nothing, I watched, for the first time in a very long time, two episodes of the late ’70s/early ’80s sitcom Mork and Mindy, starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. I think, actually, this may have been the first time I’d watched full episodes of the show since it originally aired. Oh, I’ve seen bits and pieces and clips and such since then, but watching one from beginning to end? It’d been a while.

But here’s the thing about Mork and Mindy. There is was a particular magazine that I bought (or cajoled my parents into buying for me) early in the show’s airing that has stuck in my mind for decades after it was discarded in whatever cleaning incident took its life. You know the phrase “living rent-free in my head?” Well, it was this magazine, doing so for so many years. (I told my girlfriend about the “being stuck in my head” thing, and she responded “poor magazine,” which, well, yeah.)

Not sure why the memory of this specific mag was trapped in my RAM and not shunted away to the tape-drive back-up. The cover remained lodged there, and I could only recall one specific article.

Oh, the mag in questions: Cracked Collectors’ Edition #29 (May 1979):


Inspired in part by the recent viewing of the television show, coupled with the fact the mag had been nagging at my mind for so long, I dipping into eBay’s waters and fished out out.

The cover is, of course, by John Severin. A master caricaturist, it seemed he could draw any real person from any angle, still have it look like them, make them “act” on the page, and it never once made you think “look at that photo reference.” Cracked may have been the mag you picked up if there wasn’t a new Mad out yet, but by God Cracked had John Severin and Mad didn’t, so big points in its favor there.

Which isn’t to say Cracked didn’t have other fine cartoonists in their stable, because of course they did. And plenty of hem worked on this very magazine. It’s just…well, where Cracked maybe fell down a bit, especially in this example, is forgetting the “parody/satire” part of the satirical genre of which the mag was supposedly a part.

Admittedly, it’s tricky, particularly with something like Mork and Mindy, a deliberately wild and silly show. Trying to come at it with a parodic or satirical take would require using some form of humorous perspective sufficiently transformative to be seen as a commentary on the source material, versus just as extension of it.

That is this issue of Cracked in a nutshell. It’s not satirical. It feels like an official fan magazine at time, an unauthorized tie-in to the TV show. So much so that I actually checked the copyright section to see if it had been actually commissioned by the folks behind the show. A lot of the humor is simply “here are some Mork-style jokes we’ve written,” such as having a “reader’s” letters page with answered in the Mork-voice:


…surrounded with many of Severin’s illos of Mork and the cast to make sure you know who the mag’s about.

And then there’s this article defining words from Mork’s home planet:

Plus some gag pages about life on the planet Ork, and a look at Mork’s boyhood:


…which is strictly non-canon, of course, given the revelation in season 4 that Mork’s people are born old (in eggs) and age backwards. NON-CANON, DANG IT.

And really, none of this functions as any form of commentary on the show. It’s all either explanatory (like the glossary of terms) or Expanded Universe/fan-fiction-y (like Mork’s childhood). There’s a feature on “What If Other Actors Played Mork” with stills from movies and TV shows giving in-context Mork-style jokes. (Or “jokes” – one of which is a cowbay, just shot, being given the dialogue “that hurts, get me out of here, Orson! “which…what?) I suppose that’s…parodic, maybe?

Again, there’s nice art in this…Cracked never skimped on the funny drawings, at least back when I was reading. And that specific article I remembered all these years that I mentioned up front? “…All Seriousness Aside,” a text biography of Robin Williams (with a nice big photo of him accompanying it). Of everything inside the mag, the one that stayed with me was not comics. Go figure. I think part of it is that the title puzzled me, as a sometimes chowderheaded 10-year-old that I was. “‘All Seriousness Aside?’ Shouldn’t that mean that they put all the seriousness away and that this biography should be funny?” …As I said, chowderheaded.

I presume Cracked being recognized as part of the same school of satire as Mad Magazine is what kept any ceases-and-desists away in cases like this, where the “take-off” is barely distinguishable from licensed product. And frankly, Cracked rode that Mork and Mindy train hard. Just like they did Happy Days and the Fonz. And Star Wars. And Diff’rent Strokes. Boy, did they love Diff’rent Strokes. There was lots of Mork content in the regular mag, and there was even a second special like this one featuring all-Mork, all the time.

I don’t know if any of the other Mork articles in other issues were more along the lines of real satire. I know I had this issue as a kid, and I feel like maybe this might have made more of an attempt at poking humorous fun at the concept rather than write for it, y’know?

Mostly I think I was just surprised at how…low effort the humor was. I’d expected it to be more like Mad, but it was basically, I don’t know, Starlog.

At least it’s all nicely drawn. And overall…it’s not so bad if you take it for what it is: an exploitative fad-riding cash-grab, presenting a topic under the guise of satire but not really saying anything about it.

And before you say anything…I just noticed they used the same drawing of Mork in two of the pics posted above. Sigh.

In which I spend an overwrought paragraph explaining to readers of a comics blog how “comic collecting” works.

§ April 2nd, 2021 § Filed under collecting, teen titans § 8 Comments

So I was processing a few books I acquired from a collection on Thursday, and one of them was New Teen Titans #36 from 1987:


It has an October cover date, but according to this page it was out late June, so I’d just graduated high school, was about to start college, and was still a year away from entering the world of comics retail in which I am still fully ensnared.

I’d bought a copy of this issue of the rack at the time, most likely from my future place of employment. I’d come somewhat late to the New Teen Titans, the first issue of which I’d bought being around #27 or so of the initial series, where they’re fighting Brother Blood. I continued to read it after that, going into the bins for back issues (again, from my then-future place of employment) and picking up the new ones as they were released. Even rode out the whole “hardcover/softcovertransition was the series was weaned away from newsstand sales and put firmly into the Direct Market of comical-book shops.

What I’m telling you is that I read New Teen Titans for a while. Big fan, thought it was great. Still think it’s great, even if, like mentioned in our discussion of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the art was usually beautiful (primarily by George Perez, but some of the other artists weren’t too shabby either), and the writing was…certainly of its time, but still readable. It was a Fun Book, essential reading if you were a DC fan (just as Uncanny X-Men was required if you were a Marvel fan). (Or hell, if you were just a comics fan, you probably read both.)

But when issue #36 came out…I mean, I bought it, I took it home, I read it. The more I thought about that cover, however, the more I came to believe it was, I don’t know, insulting my intelligence somehow. Like I saw the “IT FINALLY HAPPENS! STARFIRE KILLS” blurb for the somewhat tasteless pandering it was. I just plain didn’t like this cover, that blurb, and it put me off so much that I dropped the comic. (For a while, more on that in a second.)

I’m sure there was more to it than just a dumb cover blurb. While, as I said, many of the artists who came after Perez on the title were perfectly fine and enjoyable, they were usually in service to stories and scripts that just didn’t grab me. I don’t know if it was me, just having read enough Teen Titans for the time being, or if maybe without the magic partnership with Perez, Marv Wolfman’s storytelling was not quite as inspired, making the book no longer as compelling and vital as it once had been.

Ultimately, it was likely a combination of factors that caused me to drop New Teen Titans. It’s that blurb, though, that sticks with me, the marketing straw that broke this collector’s…long box? Sorry, the metaphor got away from me, but regardless, it’s just one example of how attrition occurs on longish-running titles, for on what the surface may be a nitpicky reason that serves as a blanket excuse covering the myriad of other issues involved in the decision.

And what did I say above about coming back? Why, yes, I eventually did…I skipped that whole brouhaha between 37 and 49 and popped back in when Perez returned for the revised origin of Donna Troy beginning in #50:

…and looking at this pic reminds me of how the gold ink on this cover never looked shiny and clean, even new off the shelf. Just…”give me your most dingy gold ink, my good man” said DC at the printer, and they were happy to oblige. But cover coloring aside, the story was…fine, a new convoluted revision to the ever-revising Donna Troy origin. As soon as it was over, I was off the book ’til 1990 and the release of issue #71:


…because I’m a sucker for extree-sized anniversary issues, and also because I do like the Titans and wanted to give it another shot.

And I picked a good time to start up again because hoo boy it felt like Marv Wolfman found his second wind on the title. It was a leaner, more exciting ride, aided and abetted by some of Tom Grummett’s best artwork, and it just kinda steamrolled along for a while. Surprises in each issue, no character felt safe, cliffhangers galore…the book had a manic energy to it that was just carried you along. For a while there New Titans was one of my favorite series.

Eventually everything peaked and the book settled back down to a more normal pace…still good and perfectly enjoyable, and I hung on ’til #100 (another extra-sized anniversary issue) and that, as it turned out, was my Teen Titans saturation point. When the long-awaited graphic novel Games was finally released in…was it really 2011? That late? Anyway, when it came out, as intrigued as I was at reading another Wolfman/Perez comic, and I had the book in my hands, looking at the front and back covers and thinking about it hard, I ended up not delving back into that world.

I did give my Titans run a reread about a decade or so ago, enjoying what would turn out to be a final run through the book before I opened my own shop in 2014 and gave up all my copies to fill back issue stock. It was a Good Comic, fun and exciting and dopey and beautiful and melodramatic and compelling in all the right quantities and I’m glad I read it. Even if I’m occasionally reminded of why I didn’t like it sometimes, as per that cover at the top of the post.

Occasionally I think about getting one of the many reprints of at least the early Wolfman/Perez issues, to have them on nice paper for future perusal (especially since on my last reread I noticed the paper and printing in the original comics having not really aged well). Honestly, though, I don’t know if I’d make the time to go back to read them, particularly at the moment when I’m still catching up on a backlog of comics. But it’s good to know it’s being preserved, and not just forgotten in the dusty back issue bins of comic book stores.

Now the Teen Titans cartoons? Those are great, too, but that perhaps is for another post.

A correction and a couple o’comics.

§ March 31st, 2021 § Filed under dc comics, publishing, this week's comics § 3 Comments

So to add to my Superman: Birthright discussion on Monday, the writer of said book, Mark Waid himself, dropped on by to clarify/correct some of my assumptions. Primarily, that Birthright was indeed intended to be the new “official” Superman origin, but was eventually decided that yet another version, the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank Secret Origin mini, would be the new official origin instead. Least ’til, you know, they changed it again.

Anyway, here’s a period article with an interview with Mr. Waid about Birthright being the “official” origin, which was declared so late in the run due to the Super-books being “still somewhat in flux” when the series began. While I was correct in that the state of Superman’s history at that point was a bit mushy and open to revision, as I said in my last post, my assumption that Birthright was a planned out-of-continuity story that eventually ended up in continuity despite itself was incorrect.

So, when you reread that last post of mine, disregard my poor use of Birthright as an example for my thesis. I think my overall entry there is correct, in that if you leave any ambiguity to the canonicity of a story involving DC or Marvel characters in what appears to be their familiar milieus, the default position of a certain subset of fandom regarding that story is that it’s part of official continuity. And that the emphasis, especially by DC, on continually trying to establish what is their official continuity only encourages the behavior.

Not all fans do this, of course, but like I said, I’m still getting customers asking me if Three Jokers is, you know, Real Joker History and, well, what can you do. “It is if you want it to be!” I’ve answered more than once, and I don’t know if that helps, really.

Okay, let me say something about a couple of comics that came out this week:


I didn’t keep the cover pictured above…this is one of those “retailer incentive variants” that I have to order a certain number of the regular covers in order to receive. But you think I’m gonna pass up posting a kickass Beta Ray Bill pic by his creator, Walt Simonson, on my site? Heck no.

Anyway, the entirety of my Thor reading is as follows: the Walt Simonson run from #337 to #382 (plus the couple of fill-in issues in that run, which were also great), whatever stories were in the Origins of Marvel Comics books, and the Lee/Kirby “Search for Galactus” issues that pal Cully let me borrow once. Nothing against Thor, and I know some later runs of Thor are very highly regarded, but my brain decided “That’s All The Thor I Need” and that was that, I guess.

When I opened my own shop a few years ago, I gave up my Thors (not Cully’s Thors, I returned ’em, honest) to the back issue bins, which was a good idea because boy did they sell well. As they should, because they’re beautiful and perfect, but “Fanboy Mike” is a tad annoyed at “Retailer Mike” as I kind of miss having those. But hey, I figured at the time I could always pick ’em up in reprints one way or another.

So basically I haven’t been involved in Thor comics for a while. Then why pick up Beta Ray Bill #1? Well, the work of Daniel Warren Johnson for one, who is writing and drawing this book and it looks fantastic. I’m not one for two-page spreads in comics nowaways, but Mr. Johnson throws in a couple of them in this issue and I know I really like a comic when that doesn’t bug me in the slightest. It all feels like a natural extension of Simonson’s rendition of the character without being an imitation of his style, in a way that previous efforts with the Beta Ray Bill have not.

As someone who, as I just told you, hasn’t been immersed in recent Thor comic shenanigans, there wasn’t a steep learning curve for getting caught up to speed on recent Asgardian events. Johnson does a good job naturally slipping in the necessary exposition to establish the world of the book and the premise for the series.

Yes, it is, nominally, a tie-in to the “King in Black” event currently happened at Marvel, but it barely counts, a “Red Skies” type of crossover where a Surprise Guest Monster shows up to wreak havoc in Asgard and oh, he’s all King in BLack-ized or whatever they call it. Could easily just have been Special Surprise Guest Monster all on his lonesome and the effect on the plot wouldn’t have been any different, really. But if it gets more eyeballs on the comic, then we shall let this pious fraud pass.

What I’m saying is that Beta Ray Bill is just as good as I’d hoped it would be, since seeing preview pages a while back. As someone actively not looking to pick up new series right now due to my immense funnybook backlog caused by eyeball issues, I snatched this one up with no regrets.


Young Hellboy is a fun, cute series, the second issue of which is out this week. Young Hellboy runs into a Golden Age-style jungle girl on a mysterious island, and seeing HB as an overly talkative, hyperactive child is always entertaining. With the forward motion on the “current” Hellboy timeline effectively ended with, um, the end of the world, it’s nice that we’re still getting “flashback” Hellboy stories. “Hellboy may be dead but his cash flow lives on,” as the Dead Milkmen said (slightly paraphrased). Even knowing the eventual end point for the Hellboy Universe, the sense of impending doom doesn’t weigh too heavily upon these stories…I mean, not that particular doom, anyway.

It’s a nice reminder of what Hellboy was, back before the plot overtook the premise and everything was pointing to The End, versus just the big red guy smacking monsters around and shooting (badly) at demonic foes. Or, as in this series, swinging on a vine and shouting with glee. As I said, fun and cute.

Daniel’s Progressive Ruin.

§ March 29th, 2021 § Filed under dc comics, publishing § 11 Comments

Unlike my hope at the end of the last post addressing Daniel’s comment about DC and the rebooting and the continuities, I do in fact have yet another early morning appointment waiting for me as I write this the night before it. I believe that’s the last of said appointments for a while, the timing of which is unfortunately a necessity when one has a seven-day-a-week job. So let me be quick like the bunny in these responses:

“For me, the DC characters are strongest when they’re in a perpetual state of reboot and/or Elseworlds variations. Seeing a young Batman meet the Joker for the first time in stylistically and narratively different ways each time is infinitely more interesting to me than seeing 80-year-continuity Batman meet the Joker for the 368th time in their ongoing history.”

Nearly, urgh, 20 years ago, the mini-series Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid, Leinil Yu and Gerry Alanguilan was released, retelling the early years of Superman’s life. It wasn’t intended to be part of regular continuity; rather, just a fresh interpretation of Superman’s origin by a talented creative team, unburdened by the need to be tied to anything else DC was doing with the character.

I suppose what happened was that the story told in Birthright wasn’t distinct enough from mainline continuity…not branded “Elseworlds” or whatever. Not the fault of the creative team, of course, but the Superman story post-Crisis and post-Zero Hour had perhaps become nebulous enough, and distant enough from the mid-1980s John Byrne reboot, that Birthright somehow came to be considered part of the “official” origin. I believe it was this story that reintroduced the Silver Age-y idea of Lex Luthor living in Smallville when he was young, effectively de-aging the Byrne version (who’d already been de-aged via clone/deal with Neron shenanigans that I’m not going into here) from being decades older than Clark Kent to maybe only being a few years, at most.

EDIT: Please check the comments for some clarification from Mr. Waid his own self.

Daniel, I think ideally, for the purposes of DC’s maintenance of a superhero universe, having the “in-continuity” stories is fine. And your idea of having varied tellings and retellings of stories featuring the characters that don’t have to be shoehorned into that continuity is great. Does Batman: Three Jokers fit into the official, current Batman history? Will it ever be referenced outside of a Three Jokers sequel? Probably not. I know I spent a couple of posts picking at the continuity details of this story, but, really, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. It’s a standalone story you can enjoy (or not enjoy, as the case may be) as in-continuity, if you’d like, or outside of it.

Part of the problem is that DC’s constant obsession with “fixing the universe” in most of their Big Events reemphasizes the idea that Continuity Matters, that all the pieces need to fit and be consistent. So when stuff like Birthright and Three Jokers come along, which (at least in the former, can’t say for sure about the latter) aren’t intended to be part of regular continuity but aren’t immediately identifiable as being separate from it, the readers can get it into their heads that they’re supposed to consider these stories are part of the Official Big Picture. I mean, if Batman’s not, like, a pirate in the story, or Superman’s rocket didn’t land in Norway, which is what DC has essentially trained its readership to look for when considering if a story is, biggest quotation marks ever, “real” or not.

Look, I know most people aren’t worried to this extent about their comic book stories. I read (and am still reading) the Superman comics from the Byrne reboot ’til today, and I can draw a more or less unbroken line from what happened then to what’s going on now. Is everything entirely consistent? No, of course not…it wasn’t even before the whole Flashpoint/New 52/Rebirth hoohar. Does that bother me? Nah, not really. I tend to go on about some of the inconsistencies here on this site, but more out of amusement than outrage. As a wise philosopher once almost said, “it’s just a [comic book], I should really just relax.”

In short, if I can ever be short, DC has its readership used to the idea that continuity is paramount, and therefore every story has to “count.” Thus, doing stories that aren’t necessarily in continuity can become difficult to distinguish as such unless they contain gimmicks that decidedly make them outside the main storylines. Thus, anyone really bothered by this sort of thing, which isn’t everybody, I know, but it ain’t zero people, can find things to be confusing.

“And I think that this is part of DC’s brand management problem. I believe that there are just as many people like me who love the excitement and variation of reboots as there are people who prefer (and want to perpetuate) the never-ending 80-year soap opera. And any attempt to go in one direction or the other will inevitably alienate the other audience.”

I know DC has been messing with branding logos on their comics to identify which “family” their books are in, with a general “DC Universe” for those without specific categories. Maybe a general icon that means “YES, THIS IS IN WHATEVER OUR CONTINUITY IS NOW.” Which is its own problem, because then maybe people wouldn’t buy the one-offs and minis without the logo because they’re outside continuity? You see the difficulty. I think just ending the Big Event reboots, and changing things as necessary in the comics as time goes on, without making a big deal out of it, is the best solution. If DC stops making such a big deal out of continuity, maybe readers will too. Well, some readers, anyway. I’ve been at this too long, I know better.

I don’t know. I think folks should just read the stories they like and if they want to think some story is or is not part of the larger picture, then go to town, friend. In my personal head canon, those stories where Alec Holland’s brother “cures” Alec, followed by Swamp Thing teaming up with the Challengers of the Unknown and Deadman are all still part of the character’s history, and nobody’s gonna tell me different.

We interrupt this program with an important bulletin.

§ March 26th, 2021 § Filed under publishing, retailing § 3 Comments

Well, hoo boy, more big news for the comics business as Marvel signs an exclusive deal with Penguin Random House to distribute their comics and books an’ stuff, beginning in October.

Diamond Comics, the distributor that’s had the exclusive distribution rights for nearly three decades, has announced that they’ll still be carrying Marvel product as before, if retailers prefer continuing to buy from them. However, Diamond would be essentially just be a large customer of Penguin Random House and reselling to stores, likely meaning an adjustment in discounts, and I’ve no idea what the timing will be like. Would Diamond get them early enough to redistribute the books to retailers in time for New Comics Day? Or will that point be moot if Marvel follows DC’s lead and picks another day of the week to be NCBD?

From what I’ve read, PRH, which I’m condensing it to because I’m already tired of typing it out, will offer a standard 50% discount to retailers on new product, which is less than what I’m getting from Diamond. However, PRH will also be offering free shipping, and no reorder fees, so that more or less balances out.

In addition, the ugly truth is that I expect shortages and damages to be reduced as well, which I’d gladly give up a percentage point or two in wholesale discount terms in exchange for product showing up on time and in sellable condition. My DC shipments from their new distributor, Lunar, have been virtually error-free…if I’ve reported more than a half-dozen problems total since receiving shipments from them last year, I’d be shocked. And it’s almost always “you sent me 49 instead of 50 copies,” that sort of thing. Only once did I have a significant issue (all my standard cover copies of Future State: Harley Quinn #1 got missed, but replaced right away).

By comparison, I’ve had problems with my Diamond shipments nearly every week. There are the minor mess-ups, like a book or two getting damaged in packing or in transit, which happens. But there are the times when books get missed entirely and I have to wait a week (usually) or two to three weeks (ugh, sometimes) for replacements. And more than once in the last few weeks, sometimes replacements can’t be found and I just get credit, meaning I’m off to eBay or other stores to beg for copies. Or buying directly from the publisher (like I had to with a recent issue of Taarna), which makes me wonder why I can do that and my distributor can’t. And God help you if that book you’re trying to replace on your own is The Random Hot Book of the Week As Decided by Speculators, like that Daredevil #26 I never got that was going for $20 a pop on eBay.

Now, I can only imagine the stress caused by the combination of massive amounts of product and whatever effects COVID has had on the processing/packing end of things. I need to be more understanding, but at the same time it’s a real pain to be invoiced for things you can’t sell. Maybe fewer Marvels passing through the system will ease the load and improve fulfillment? Or will the loss of that income keep us exactly where we’re at? I don’t know.

I know I can gripe about Diamond a bit, especially when something inexplicable (uh, just a single Comic Shop News instead of the full bundle?) or gross (is that a piece of chewed-up gum in this box?) happens. But honestly most of the time I’ve had a good relationship with them and they’ve treated me well, and on occasions when I’ve been especially screwed (like that time half my boxes disappeared in transit) they got replacements out to me within a couple of days.

Basically, I don’t want them to go away. But I am okay with having more competition in the distribution side of things, which, with any luck, will improve everyone’s service. Yes, that means more bills to keep track of, and more order forms to fill out, but it beats digging ditches (apologies to any ditch-diggers reading this who love their jobs). It also means learning a new online ordering portal, I’m sure (Lunar’s took a bit to get whipped into shape, and even still has a bit to go).

The competitive stakes are especially high on Diamond’s part, as some of their biggest remaining clients (like Dark Horse, IDW, and Archie) also have preexisting relationships with PRH. It probably wouldn’t take much for them to slide their product lines over from one company to another.

So we shall see what results from all this brouhaha. It’d be nice if PRH could somehow get Marvel to tamp down the #1 relaunches and variant covers. That’d get everyone celebrating.

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