mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, March 03, 2007


from I Love You #114 (Oct. '75)

Friday, March 02, 2007

"...Often poorly written, with undeveloped, unchanging characters and predictable plots." 

"Comic books can be enjoyed on paper too"

I swear the opening lines of this article don't refer to me; for one, I don't wear my Swamp Thing t-shirt at the store:

"When is the last time you went into a comic book shop? Was is [sic] yesterday, or maybe last Wednesday? Or was it a month ago to pick up the back-issues that the friendly middle-aged clerk with the Swamp Thing shirt has been saving in your file for you?"

The article, however, is mostly about this:

"So why do comic book movies draw in the masses but comic books themselves are largely neglected? People accept the action and characters in the movies as suitable and entertaining for adults, but this same action and these same characters in print form are relegated to the realm of children's amusement."

No answers to be had, just further statements that, yes indeed, people would rather watch movies about superheroes than read comics about superheroes. The writer makes the point that, since "comic books themselves are often poorly written, with undeveloped, unchanging characters and predictable plots," they make effective inspiration for dumbed-down flicks for the masses.

Just thought y'all would enjoy that.

In other news...well, not "news," but a couple things that popped up at the store:
  • Why is Dr. Strange/Dr. Doom: Triumph & Torment out of print? It's drawn by Mike Mignola, bit of a name artist at the moment as I understand, which is reason enough right there; plus the fact that everyone enjoys a good Dr. Doom story, which this is. A nice, prestige-format comic book sized reprint of this graphic novel would make a good sales item. It'd be racked with Mignola's Hellboys, natch.

  • I've talked about this before, but I got it again this week and wanted to note it: I had a customer, a fairly regular one in fact, surprised by the very idea of multiple covers. "So are they same on the inside, or does the story continue from one comic to the other?" "No, no, it's the exact same comic, just with different covers." "Different covers...so they're different comics?"

    If this were just a comics thing, I'd be less surprised by this. But T.V. Guide, of all mags, has done multiple covers...it's common enough in the "real" world that people still being confused by the concept comes as bit of a minor shock to me.

    Other unfair judgement of customer questions: "Hey, what's an 'annual?'" "It's a special issue of a comic book that comes out once a year. The term 'annual' is more or less its definition." No, I don't say that exact thing to them...I'm a little nicer than that. Not much nicer. And I realize it's been a while since comic book annuals were commonplace...I should cut folks some slack.

  • On Thursday: "Hey, I can't afford to buy any of your comics. Is it okay if I take a pile of them, sit in an out-of-the-way part of your store, and read them all for free?"

    "Uh, no, but thank you for at least asking first."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What former employees leave on the store's answering machine. 

"Hello, um, I'm a concerned citizen, and I just happened to be driving on East Fifth Street in Oxnard right now, and I saw a billboard that had the Silver Surfer on it, and I was really concerned that they might be making a sequel to the Fantastic Four movie, which I hope is not true. I was hoping you could clarify this for me.

"Um...I'm just going to go drink instead. Thank you."

Another funny animal lost in the mists of time. 

from Coo Coo Comics #2 (Dec. 1942)

In other news:
  • If you enjoyed the funny animal strip I posted yesterday, Mark has improved upon it.

  • H at the Comic Treadmill tells of the day Dr. Fate met my namesake.

  • From The Comics Journal #281 (out this week!), Steven Grant writes this in the intro to his interview with Gilbert Hernandez:

    "Then there are the Hernandez brothers. Coming out of nowhere (or Oxnard, Calif., which amounts to the same thing)...."

    As an Oxnard native and current resident, I have two things to say: "Hey!" -- and "Well, actually, I can't really argue with that."

    But then again, our fine town was repeatedly referenced on Alf, so we've got that going for us.

  • Related to pal Dorian's "comics in antique stores" thing: there used to be an "antique store" (or "thrift store"...the difference between the two generally being the prices being asked) that would price any comics they got in by coming to our store and seeing our prices for the same books. Invariably, their books were in much worse shape than ours, so their comics would all end up being overpriced for their conditions.

    The specific example I remember is Avengers #1 (the Gold Key based on the '60s TV show)...we had a very nice copy priced at $150. The thrift store folks also priced their copy at $150, and had it framed on the wall of their shop...where I was able to get a good look at it and determine that it had apparently been run over by a truck at some point in the comic's history.

  • Depressing thought of the day: having a very specific vision for a new direction for one's favorite comic book character (like, oh, say, Swamp Thing), and 1) knowing with absolute certainty that there's no way on God's green Earth that the publisher would ever, ever go for it, 2) not that they'd even want to talk to me about it in the first place, and 3) the more I think about this particular direction, the more I gotta see it.

    Sad when it happens to someone you know, isn't it?

  • Just watched the new Invincible Iron Man cartoon, and I think Marvel's direct-to-video animated movies have a serious case of diminishing returns. The first Ultimate Avengers was slight but watchable (if you avoid the appallingly-incompetent text commentary), and that was the best of them. The second Ultimate Avengers couldn't keep my interest for the 80-minute running time, and Iron Man turned out to be a snoozefest as well. Characters I didn't care about, action sequences that were more endured than enjoyed...it just didn't do anything for me. The opening sequence from the forthcoming Dr. Strange movie that's included on the disc didn't fill me with high hopes for improvement.

    Here's hoping the DC direct-to-video flicks are better...but then, they'd almost have to be.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Another funny animal forgotten by history. 

from a coverless Felix the Cat comic, circa 1950

Kokey had one issue of his own comic in the U.S. in 1952, and also had an ongoing series in Australia (a sample of which you can see here). A quick Googling reveals a handful of mentions of Kokey in articles about Australian comics, so maybe he's not totally forgotten (like, say, Spunky the Monkey).

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tuesday quickies. 

  • All hail the mighty Neilalien, who just celebrated seven years of comic book weblogging. We are all but humble followers in his giant footsteps.

  • Spencer at Of Course, Yeah has announced the winners of the Do-It-Yourself "Get Your Civil War On" contest. Very funny stuff...almost justifies the existence of the Civil War crossover in the first place. Almost. (Related: newspaper columnist mistakenly believes Civil War has something to say about real-world events.)

  • Pal Dorian let his kid brother Andy take over the site again in order to espouse his views on funnybooks. I can think of a few message boards where Andy would fit right in. (Special bonus, probably just for the day: the one animated GIF you'd least expect to see on Dor's site. And no, I'm not talking about the eagle one.)

  • In response to my post yesterday, commenter Chad asked the following question: "How is it that the Swamp Thing mythos appeals to you so much?" And that is a good question, one that probably deserves more of an answer than just one entry in a list of bullet-pointed links. I've been thinking about how to answer that for most of the past day, and I don't know that I'm any closer to a reasonable response now than I was before.

    The simple answer is that the Swamp Thing comics have had the good fortune to have a series of imaginative and talented creative teams over the years, starting with the character's creators (Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson), and continuing with such talents as Nestor Redondo, Tom Yeates, Marty Pasko, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Nancy A. Collins, Mark Millar, and many, many more.

    As to what specifically about the character appeals to me...I think the complexity of the character's situation struck more of a chord with me than the typical superhero books I was reading as a kid. Swamp Thing wasn't a superhero who reveled in his powers and ran around fighting bad guys. He was a character who was inherently tragic; trapped in a monstrous body, seeking a cure for the condition which gave him his special abilities...and he ran around fighting bad guys, admittedly, but that level of tragedy gave the character a sympathetic, emotional hook that drew me in more than the comparatively simplistic "guys in tights punching each other" stories.

    On a related note, as I was thinking about this question I thought about the fact that the very first issue of Swamp Thing I ever read was the issue where they began to futz with the concept (under "May 12"). I wonder if that has something to do with my inability to get too worked up whenever Marvel or DC does something drastically different (or drastically stupid) to one of their properties. I mean, my introduction to my favorite comic book character was when they took what was special about him, and began the thankfully-aborted attempt to turn him into a full-on superhero. After that, killing off Sue Dibny or giving Spider-Man a new bad costume...eh, no big whoop.

  • I hadn't noticed until the webmaster pointed it out in the comments...but the Roots of the Swamp Thing site has a nice banner pointing back to my weblog. Hey, thanks! (And I'll get back to you on that Sunderland/Firestorm connection you're asking about in your sidebar, there.) Go check it out, and dig the comprehensive timeline (which includes references to an unpublished story pitched by Bissette!).




Monday, February 26, 2007

More Swamp Thing stuff only Mike cares about. 

So I've covered a couple dropped plot points in Swamp Thing over the last year or two. There was that long-haired fella who actually set up the bomb that killed Alec Holland...and somehow managed to evade mossy justice at the Swamp Thing's hands. And then there was the mysterious device we were told about (but never shown) that kept folks away from Alec and Linda Holland's graves...the story of which was to be told in a future issue of DC Comics Presents, which, alas, did not come to pass.

Here's another Swamp Thing plot development from the original series that's since been lost: Abby Arcane's mystical powers. In issue #15 (Mar/Apr '75) by David Michelinie and Nestor Redondo, Swamp Thing is possessed by a demon, while his soul is trapped in a magic globe. Abby has a sudden, mysterious insight into how to stop the infernal creature:

She determines that smashing the globe will not only cause no harm to Swampy's soul, but it will also sufficiently weaken the demon so that it may be defeated. It's possible that it's just a lucky guess, but the narrative as much as tells you that she had some kind of mystical hoohar goin' on.

This new ability of Abby's is next brought up in Swamp Thing #17 (July '75), as Matt Cable and Abby have a brief conversation about her unusual talents:

Okay, "I sense evil" isn't much of a magical insight, I suppose, but Matt mentions that she "keep[s] having" these feelings, though the only one we see "onscreen" is the event in #15.

The power moves beyond "lucky guesses" and "feeling evil" in #18 (Sept '75), as the good guys are tied or chained up by the bad guys...but before things move too far along, Abby's powers free her from her bonds:

...And while in her magical trance, she turns and apparently sees the Swamp Thing through the wall of the building in which she's trapped:

She calls out to him, Swampy smashes through the wall Kool-Aid Man style, beats the crap out of some people, and the good guys win again.

Matt Cable has further questions about Abby's powers:

...but that's the last we hear of them, as after the two-part story in #19 and #20, Matt 'n' Abby disappear from the Swamp Thing saga, until about a dozen and a half issues into the '80s revivial of the series. And, by the time they reappear, the "Abby's powers" subplot is long forgotten. Matt has weird powers by that point, but that's another story entirely.


I'm the only person who cares about this, I realize. Thank you for tolerating my bizarre obsessions.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mike's post of delightful cheer. 

Just a couple brief notes:

1. Having glanced through the last issue of the Civil War series, my immediate thought was "this really wasn't worth all the grief we had to put up with." And to my customers who asked "Is this it? Is Civil War finally over?" -- all I could do was sadly shake my head. More one-shots and other assorted follow-ups to come, my friends...keep your wallets ready.

2. My comments to Employee Aaron as I was going through some '50s and '60s Blackhawk comics:

"Okay, I know this isn't how it worked, but looking at these things...it's like, if a comic script wasn't good enough for the Superman line of books, it was passed over to Batman and slightly rewritten for use there. If the script wasn't good enough for Batman, it was passed down to the Blackhawk guys and rewritten for that team. And if the script wasn't good enough for the Blackhawks, they gave it to Wonder Woman."

I repeat: I KNOW THIS ISN'T WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DID. But after seeing the Blackhawks fight a bald scientist or the Blackhawk Revenge Sq...er, the League of Anti-Blackhawks or, for God's sake, Cat-Man, you can't help but wonder.

3. From the Newsarama article on Stephen King's appearance at the New York con:

"[Marvel editor-in-chief Joe] Quesada went on to say that publishing the Dark Tower comic book has been the coming out party for the comic book industry, noting that this project will be able to reach far out into the mainstream, and show that comics are a serious art form, and 'an art form to be reckoned with.'"

Well, no, it won't, but it'll sell well for a while, and it's not a bad comic, so I can't complain about that. But it's not going to make everyone start taking the medium "seriously." Like I said before, it'll get non-comic-reading King fans in the door to buy Dark Tower (and only Dark Tower)...at least for a while, until they get tired of trying to keep up with a comic on a monthly basis (or whatever publishing schedule it finally ends up being on).

So after whatever sales-bump/media attention Marvel is getting from their current novelty publishing license dies down, mainstream news coverage will go from the "Hey, did you know there's a Stephen King comic book" stories we're getting now, and back to the "BAM! ZAP! POW! Comics are (worth money/corrupting kids/still being published, believe it or not/cheap R&D for movies where real money is to be made/read by freaks like this local collector we're interviewing)" stories the industry usually gets. And non-comic-readers will go back (if they ever stopped) to looking upon comics with indifference, if not outright disdain.

Bitter cynicism aside...I thought it was kinda cool that Stephen King went to the New York Con to plug the project. I'm enough of a fanboy to admit it.

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