mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"No practicing or exercise needed!" 

from Crime and Punishment #29 (August 1950)

EDIT: For more "rubber wonderskin," see Kevin.

Friday, June 22, 2007

In which I'm a lot nicer than I need to be. 

So Employee Aaron told me that, for his birthday, he received the Superman Returns DVD. This particular edition of the DVD was the one available at Wal-Mart ("boo, hiss," yeah, I know) that came packaged with a digest-sized reprint of the classic last pre-Crisis Superman story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, and their other super-pals.

I had to ask. "So, Aaron, this reprint...did they get that intro text into the book that was left out of DC's most recent reprinting?"

"Uh, Mike, did I actually just hear you pronounce out an entire hyperlink?"

"Don't change the subject...is that text in there or not?"

"How do you keep a jerk in suspense? I'll tell you tomorrow."

And thus, the next day Aaron brought in the digest, and lo, there was indeed Mr. Moore's original intro text:

A different typeface than the original, sure, but at least it's there. So if you have to have a reprint of this story, and you don't mind the smaller size, and if you can brave your local Wal-Mart, it's out there for the taking.

Which reminds me: does anyone know if DC has corrected the "missing text" problem in the DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore trade? I haven't reordered it for the shop since learning about the error, and it probably wouldn't do any good to call the Powers That Be to ask about it, since the last time I tried to explain this particular problem to someone, I could hear the blank stare over the phone.

So, if you all know, pass the info along, please.

In other "news:"

  • Related to what Ragnell had to say: if you post a public message in a publicly accessible forum or weblog, don't be surprised if said public message is publicly linked in someone else's public forum or weblog for discussion. See, it's this whole "hyperlinking" thing upon which the "World Wide Web" is based...you should look into "the Internet" sometime and see how it works. Anyway, if you're that skittish about your naughty fanfic being seen...you're on LiveJournal, for God's sake, friend-lock it.

    And, again, in reference to this specific instance Ragnell is talking about...if you're going to call bloggers "stupid," and your examples are the folks who linked to you, Dorian and Kevin, who also happen to be two of the smartest people in the blogosphere -- then you chose poorly, friend.

    And, no, I'm not linking to the discussion in question...I realize there's a base kind of irony to that.

  • "According to breaking internet reports" (i.e. almost certainly B.S., until we get it from a real source) Samuel Jackson may be playing Nick Fury in the new Iron Man movie. Oh, good, more photo reference for Marvel's "Ultimate" Nick Fury.

    Anyway, no news yet on Mr. Jackson's official web site.

  • Nothing to do with comics, but everything to do with all that is good and holy in the world: I know it's been on Boingboing and whatnot, but I'm posting it here anyway because it's as if God Himself came down and posted a video on the YouTube. Ladies and gentlemen and Ian, I give you...the best video on the internet:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What you don't want to hear. 

When this series started

you were two years younger.

Tired blogging. 

UPS showed up at the store on Wednesday, with our shipment of the new comics, at 3:30 in the afternoon. Needless to say, that was one crappy Wednesday. I still haven't pulled for the comic savers yet, so I have that still waiting for me.

And there's a Tomb of Dracula statue that's gone AWOL, floating around somewhere in the UPS warehouse's tender mercies, and hopefully that will show up today.

So I'm pooped. Pooped like a really poopy thing. Let me just mention an item or three I picked up this week:
  • The Incredible Hulk - The Complete Collection DVD - Okay, not a "new this week" item, but somehow it slipped past me in the original solicitation, and I just happened upon in while doing reorders. Sure, I've been reading the Hulk comics for about 25 years now, but there are 20 previous years that I don't have in the vast Mikester Comic Archives and couldn't resist getting 'em all in a relatively cheap and compact format. Stats: Every issue up to Dec. 2006, including annuals and the Tales to Astonish stuff. They're all scanned to good-sized PDF files, and while I'm not 100% thrilled with reading comics on a computer screen, I'll deal. Particularly if gets me out of having to buy those way too expensive issues with the first appearance of Wolverine.

  • Mantlo: A Life in Comics - a dense, inexpensive (only $7.50) magazine-format tribute to the work of comic writer Bill Mantlo, who, fifteen years ago, was seriously injured in an accident and left an invalid in need of constant care. All proceeds from the book go directly to Bill's care, and if your store doesn't have a copy, you can buy one here.

    Now I know Mr. Mantlo's writing is, shall we say, not as polished and celebrated as other more famous comic writers. Sometimes it was a little clunky, the dialogue sometimes improbable, and he wasn't exactly subtle...but some of his comics still stick with me, still resonate with me, decades after I originally read them. They were fun, they were weird, they were outright goofy...I have a great fondness for a lot of his work. His Rom comic took a toy license and actually did something worthwhile and entertaining with it. His Alpha Flight was bizarre and creepy, particularly when he was paired with Hellboy's Mike Mignola. And his Hulk run was especially imaginative and compelling during its last couple of years. A lot of the stuff people seem to associate with Peter David's run on the Hulk had its origins in Mantlo's work.

    And for God's sake, the man gave us Rocket Raccoon. He's achieved immortality simply for that.

    I've only barely started going through the book, but there appears to be plenty of good readin' ahead. Pick up a copy...it's cheap, and the money goes to a good cause.

  • Schulz's Youth, a collection of Charles M. Schulz's comic strips about teenagers, is finally out this week, and makes a good companion to your Complete Peanuts hardcover volumes. In fact, I daresay your Complete Peanuts collection is incomplete without it. See Big Nat G for more details. Available in hardcover and softcover formats.

And now for no good reason, another random sketch of mine:


Yeah, I don't know either.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Maybe he can fight my Jack Kirby action figure. 

"Stan Lee gets his own action figure"

"[Hasbro] will pay plastic tribute to the 84-year-old creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four and other comic-book heroes by interpreting him as a 6-inch tall Marvel Legends action figure. The toy shows Lee's likeness wearing khaki pants, a blue windbreaker and eyeglasses."

Fantastic Four review leads to firing. 

"Projectionist fired for bad movie review"

This Ain't It Cool News review, in fact:

"[Jesse] Morrison, writing under his on-line pen-name of Memflix wrote a review under the headline, 'Memflix crushes all hope for Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer.'"


"This may be the first time an on-line reviewer has lost a job for voicing an early opinion online."


In which Mike attempts to keep it short... 

...and probably fails miserably at it.

I didn't mean for my alleged "analysis" of your responses to be spread over a couple days' worth of posts, but I went on too long about the crossover thing yesterday and, as I said, I was just too darn tired to move on to other topics. So, let me wrap up the crossover issue (er, so to speak) as briefly as I can.

Speaking from the perspective of a person who sells funnybooks for a living, I can see when event fatigue does begin set in. Customers are excited at first, but as time wears on, and more and more tie-ins to the event crop up, and more delays occur, frustration and irritation begins to set it. For the most part, that doesn't stop our customers from continuing to follow the events (though there is some attrition), but in the long run that doesn't do much for the goodwill of the fans towards the big superhero companies.

As a reader, I don't mind the event books so much. As a DC guy, I was pretty excited about Infinite Crisis, for example, even though by the end of that run I think I noted on the site about how I'd never want to see an Omac ever again. And, while I liked some of the crossover books, I was glad to get back to the main storylines once the event was over.

Now commentor Andy G said something smart about a crossover's impact on regular titles, stating that a writer with some measure of skill can easily work with/around the "shared universe" story elements forced in by editorial edict. Andy specifically mentions Grant Morrison's dealings with this sort of thing on JLA, referring to the "Electric Superman" and other temporary character changes outside of the JLA book. I should note, however, that of the three issues during Morrison's JLA run that were explicit full-issue event tie-ins, one, as Andy noted, tied into an event series Morrison himself was writing, and the other two -- an awful "No Man's Land" Batman tie-in and a crossover dealing with however they were trying to "fix" Hal Jordan that month -- were foisted off onto other writers.

But Andy is still correct...writers can route around the damage, as it were, and either contain the crossover's influence, or perhaps spin off something new from it entirely, all without impacting the reader's enjoyment. And to be fair, I think a lot of superhero writers are able to manage it well enough...it's a skill you kinda have to have if you work for Marvel or DC. For example, I didn't much care about Marvel's Civil War event, and although it crossed over with Thunderbolts, a title I did greatly enjoy, for a few issues, it didn't really bother me so much. I never felt a need to have to go out and get the Civil War series in order to make sense of the Thunderbolts issues, as everything I needed, or wanted, to know was right there in the Thunderbolts comic itself.

So, let's see...to wrap up, then: I've got no real beef with crossover events, though spacing them out a tad may be in the publishers' best interests. Yes, customers may still be buying 'em all at the moment, but burn out is setting in. As Eddie says, my little survey is hardly a scientific poll, since the respondents are pre-selected from that portion of fandom that actively seeks out additional information and interaction regarding their funnybook hobby, and thus may be more inclined to contemplate their comic-buying and reading habits, as compared to the folks who just buy their books once a week, read 'em and forget about 'em 'til the next new comics day. But, as the old saying goes, where there's smoke, there's fire.

Other responses, in brief:

Less violence - Given we're talking about superhero books here, for the most part, violence is inherent to the genre, and the increase in explicitness of the violence (more on-panel, and barely off-panel, dismemberments and shootings and whatnot) in a handful of titles could be a result of the "me too, me too" need to compete with movies, TV, video games, and so on. It's an easy shorthand for "see, things are REAL serious in our super-adventures, here." I have mixed feelings on the topic, myself. In some contexts, the violence levels are fine. In others, it's gratuitous. As violence has always been. It's more of a problem for me as a comic book seller, when it's time to find a comic for a mom who wants "appropriate" reading for her kid, and insists on a superhero comic. "Well, here, this comic doesn't have too many decapitations in it."

More self-contained stories - I think companies are deathly afraid of letting any storylines wrap up cleanly, for fear of giving anyone jumping-off points for their readerships. It seems to me that, in the current marketplace, we don't have a lot of readers looking for clean starting points for titles they can start reading. Instead, we have a lot of comic fans looking for reasons to dump the more marginal books they're reading, and any kind of clean break can give them that opportunity. Plus, as the market continues its slow shift toward the trade paperback distribution model, the "written for the trade" series of six part stories probably isn't going to go away anytime soon.

Word balloons on covers that actually describe the story inside - I'm all for it. Take a look at some Sgt. Rock covers to see how this type of cover can practically force a reader to pick a comic off the rack.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Follow-up to the Sunday questions, part one. 

I don't know why I say things like "[I'll] provide some kind of analysis/commentary" on your responses to my Sunday questions regarding what you want/don't want to see in your comic books. Throwing around the word "analysis" makes it sound like I'm going to come up with some kind of in-depth study or something.

However, looking at your folks' answers (and thank you for participating), a few general trends can be discerned. In short, folks want self-contained, fun comics, uninvolved in company-wide crossovers, free of explicit 'n' bloody violence, and containing imaginative writing and quality art. And they all want ponies, which I thought was kind of strange.

Above and beyond anything else, respondents tend to be suffering from crossover burnout. Not surprising, and completely understandable, since Marvel and DC have been front-loading their super-books with big mega-event shenanigans over the last couple of years, with each new crossover leading into the next crossover, and so on. Alas, I don't need to tell you that crossovers aren't going away anytime soon.. they've been selling enormously well, and they're too good of marketing tools for the companies. Rarely does anything of permanent significance come out of them, but that's hardly the point. Crossovers exist for the same reason superhero team books were created...it's to get a fan of (for example) Green Lantern to buy another book that has Green Lantern in it (say, Justice League of America), and hopefully that fan will see the Flash in that comic and say, "Hey, that Flash guy is pretty cool...maybe I'll try out his comic, too."

However, fans also like to see their favorite heroes team up. Nothing wrong with that. We all want to see Red Tornado pair up with Ultraa to fight Crazy Quilt. Okay, maybe we all don't want to see that particular team-up, but you get the idea. I don't think that we all would object to the occasional big crossover hoo-har...but that's the key word, there: "occasional." As I said above, the last couple of years have been crossover/event heavy, with DC's multiple Crises and attacking Amazons and One Year Laters, and Marvel with its Civil Wars and Initiatives and World War Hulks and now that whole Skrull thing we have to look forward to. As commenter Laurie says:

"Less crossovers & tie-ins to big events. Just let the books stand on their own for a few issues."

And commenter Poormojo adds:

"...I'm tired of books with good continuing stories being thrown off track by editorial fiats to join in the latest dumb crossover."

That's what happens when the emphasis increases on the "shared" part of "shared universe." Books try to get some momentum, some traction on their own, then suddenly they're part 15 of the "Secret Crisis Millennium" and everything's on hold for a month or three. And then it's time for a crossover with "War of Infinite Genesis," followed by a tie-in to "Infinity Trinity," and whatever story the writer is trying to write has to be pushed aside to accommodate what's going on with the rest of the company. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but not much.

But, like I said, feeding readers from one "event" to the next with little or no break has been mostly successful, even with fan grumblings, so, alas, we're stuck with this particular publishing strategy for now. Once the diminishing returns set in, as they must, it'll be off to the next Big Comic Publishing Idea.

Anyway, I'm writing this very late Monday night/early Tuesday morning after a very long day, and if I don't go to bed, I'm going to fall asleep with my face pressed against the monitor and drooling on my keyboard. I'll continue my commentary (with maybe a word or two more about crossovers, and more about the other survey responses) in the morning or Tuesday evening. Thanks for your patience and for reading!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Last Friday night, I went to go see the new Fantastic Four movie, Rise of the Silver Surfer, and...short review: what they gave us was pretty good, what they didn't give us was pretty annoying.

Overall, it's an improvement over the first film. I'm one of the few people on the planet who actually kinda sorta liked the first film, despite its flaws and missed opportunities. This film feels like it's a little smoother, more action packed, more humor, more attachment to the characters (c'mon, the Thing is lovable in every medium), and doesn't overstay its welcome, clocking in at a short 90 minutes. Maybe too short, which I'll get to the spoiler section.

And, speaking of which, let me do my usual SPOILER WARNING, as I'm going to let loose with some FF movie secrets just after this next pic. When you see the second picture, the spoilers will be over. Okay, internet pals? Okay!

  • Let's get the biggie out of the way, first: as you may have gathered from my Saturday morning post, there just ain't any Galactus in the picture. At one point in the film, you see a shadow that resembles his helmet cast across the face of a planet, and near the end you kinda sorta maybe possibly see a face in the giant Galact-o-cloud.

    Now, if you're gonna mention Galactus during the course of the film, and if Galactus is presented as the true, looming threat...to not have the heroes directly face off against Galactus at the end of the story seems like a bit of a cheat. Or, at the very least, disappointing. An extra ten minutes or so featuring the FF fighting Galactus would have pushed this flick from "not too bad" to "absolutely fantastic." Er, so to speak.

    And this isn't just "Galactus should have appeared in the movie exactly as he appeared in the 1960s." It's just that having the heroes mope around on Earth while the film's Special Guest Star Superhero takes care of the real threat doesn't seem like a wise choice.

  • Speaking of the Galact-o-cloud, I have to admit it did look really menacing, particularly in the shots showing it about to encompass/devour the Earth.

  • The Silver Surfer himself...now, look, I've mentioned before the improbability of the Surfer actually working as a character. It's a guy, covered in silver, who flies on a surfboard. You'd think that'd be as goofy as all get out, but it (usually) works on paper, and it works out swimmingly on film. The initial chase sequence with the Surfer and the Human Torch is a blast, and the other (too few) sequences of the Surfer in action are quite nicely done.

  • The relationships within the family work very well, which is important. The focus for the FF should always be "family" -- this isn't just a superteam of folks with oddball powers. They're bound together by love and friendship, and this aspect of the FF translated well to film. In particular, the friendly-adverserial relationship between the Torch and the Thing, and Sue's patience and acceptance of Reed's inability to completely put aside science for romance.

  • I think we still haven't quite achieved the level of technology required to properly present a stretchy guy in live action. The bachelor party dance sequence, with Reed attempting to cut a rug with some rubbery moves, pretty much just screamed "CGI." Okay, duh, it's gotta be CGI, but it didn't look convincing in the slightest. It looked okay during the Ferris wheel rescue sequence, and during the climactic Doom battle...but more on that in a moment.

  • There's product placement all over this flick, but for the most part it actually works in context (i.e. Johnny's attempts at sponsorship). Even the "Dodge" logo on the Fantasticar amused more than offended.

  • Okay, I know I said before we don't need any more Stan Lee cameos...but the one in this film is almost directly out the original FF comics. How can I say no?

  • Dr. Doom's possession of the Surfer's powers worked better than I expected as well. The visuals of Doom riding the board looked like they were taken right out of the similar event in the original comics. Even better, though, was the Torch's acquisition of all the Four's powers in order to battle the cosmically-powered Doom, turning him into, for all intents and purposes, the Super Skrull. If there's one thing I never expected to see in a live action film, it's a flaming rocky fist at the end of a stretched arm. (In real life...sure, I expect to see that all the time.)

"Hey, look, is that Galact...oh, no, it's just a cloud. Never mind."

And there you go. I liked it. So sue me.

Also, one of the attached trailers to this film was for the forthcoming live-action Underdog movie. And...um...it actually didn't look half bad. (It just goes to show you that Peter Dinklage improves everything.) Not that I'm expecting to pay money to see it in a theatre...I'll just rent it via Netflix so no one has to know I'm watching it, except me...and, I guess, the few thousand of you who just read that. (EDIT: Paul Di Filippo has got my back re: Underdog.)

Let me know what you thought of the film in the comments section here...and don't forget to let your voice be known in my little survey from Sunday.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hey, hey, hey. 

  • Don't forget to let your opinion be known in response to my two questions from this morning.

  • Via Neilalien, a retailer's perspective on Marvel's attempt to boost orders with info-free hype, as it relates to the promised "most important event of the year" in New Avengers #31. (You know, the event that was met with a resounding "...eh.")

    "Gee, Mike, why didn't you depend on Marvel's hype and online gossip to plan your orders?" "Wow, I have no idea."

  • Speaking of Marvel and gossip, I hear tell that there may be a real groaner of a storyline coming up involving Mephisto and the altering of certain major characters' status quos. I don't know if it's just a self-contained storyline or a Real Permanent Change for All Time, but we'll see if the gossip is close to the mark soon enough.

  • Via Metafilter, quite possibly my favorite video game battle ever, courtesy the user-customizable M.U.G.E.N. fighting game...the Juggernaut versus Fat Albert:

In which Mike asks you questions in lieu of generating his own content... 

...but so I'm not entirely lazy-posting, have a link: Swamp Thing vs Hellboy - pencils and finished drawing.

Anyway, just out of curiosity, please let me know your responses to these two questions:

1. What is the one thing you'd like to see more of in your comic books? (Aside from "pages," wiseguy.)

2. What is the one thing you never want to see again in your comics? (Please don't answer this one with creators' names...instead of saying "covers by M---- T----," try "improbable anatomy being presented as 'sexy,'" which is more or less the same thing.)

I'll hopefully collect answers over the next couple of days and provide some kind of analysis/commentary on Tuesday. So don't be shy...please, speak up, LET YOUR OPINION BE KNOWN.

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