mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I can't believe it came out 21 years ago. 

You know what I reread the other day, and had forgotten just how good it was?

The Flash #1 (June 1987) by Mike Baron, Jackson Guice and Larry Mahlstedt, that's what. It just felt so refreshingly straightforward, simply dropping readers into the life of former sidekick Kid Flash Wally West, as he's adjusting not only to his life as the new Flash, but also to his new limitations...top speed now only about 700 MPH, with a increased need for food to support his power, as shown here after a fight on a plane:

Wally's lame (though, I suppose, sorta accurate) excuse always kills me in that sequence.

Also refreshing was this sequence, where Wally, in need of some income, negotiates a fee for delivering a heart for a transplant on the other side of the country:

You can understand where he's coming from, but seeing one of the classic DC heroes actually insist on some kind of payment rather than doing it simply out of the goodness of his heart (er, so to speak) was quite surprising. And interesting.

Anyway, fun book, drily witty, with plenty of action presented so matter-of-factly the proceedings felt almost Dragnet-esque at times. However, you certainly got your seventy-five cents' worth, with several Flash action set pieces and pages devoted to characterization...there's a lot going on in just this one issue.

Plus, this series would be ideal for some extensive reprinting, as with the limited number of writers over the years and the more-or-less consistent progression of the character of Wally West over that time, it actually feels like you're following a someone's life rather than a corporate property handled by Diverse Hands in order to maintain the trademark. Well, yeah, the Flash comic is there to maintain the trademark, but the illusion of consistency in the stories is handled well, more so than most other superhero books.

I also just wanted to show you this bit of business from the first page of the second issue of The Flash since we're all about to go Watchmen-crazy, what with that big movie coming out:

Watchmen in-house product placement. Enjoy, won't you?

So now, I've got these old Flash comics on the reread pile. Because, you know, I don't have enough new stuff to read, I have to reread old stuff. Hoo, boy.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Odds and ends. But mostly odds. 

  • My mighty Canadian twin Steven sent me a couple links to videos that are on that YouTube all the kids are crazy for, including this one pairing up the soundtrack from the forthcoming Dark Knight trailer with video from our favorite live-action version of Batman:

    And then there's this clip, which does the same thing with footage from Tim Burton's first Bat-flick. Not quite as funny, but still amusing.

  • I pop into Ain't It Cool News about once every week or two, just in case something worthwhile is accidentally posted there that I can share with you folks. It's been a while since I've found anything, but this week...oh, this week, I spotted something fabulous. Glorious, even. Behold:


    I thought, as cartoon adaptations of my favorite comic books go, that the animated Sam & Max wasn't half-bad. I only managed to catch a handful of episodes before the series went away to cartoon heaven, but I've been desperately trying to find them again. Well, not too desperately, but I was interested in getting my hands on a full set of 'em, and here they are.

    Oh, did someone say "Amazon.com link?" Glad to oblige:

    Okay, it's not due out 'til March...coincidentally, my birthday month, hint hint, nudge nudge...but order now, before you forget. Don't let that weird little rabbity-thing down!

  • Reader Mike (no relation) sent along this link to an auction for "Action Comics #1 (Real)."

    Okay, even giving this fellow the benefit of the doubt, that he actually has an original Action Comics #1 from 1938, and not one of the many, many reprints that have been issued since...I'm gonna need more that just 1) his word that it has a certificate of authenticity, and 2) what looks like a stock image of the Action #1 cover art rather than an actual scan of the comic before I thrown down fifty thousand bones.

    'Course, all he says is that it's "real" -- all editions of this comic are real, since they actually do exist as physical objects...they're just not necessarily the "real" version from 1938. But, hey, like I said, for all I know this is an actual original version from 1938, but there's not enough proof there to verify it.

    If I were selling Action #1, and I decided I was going to use the eBay to unload it, here's what I would do. First, high quality scans of the front and back, plus close-ups of the corners, photos of some of the interior pages...basically, lots of images showing that, yes, here's an actual copy of the book, and not just some picture I took off a website.

    Also, some grading information would be nice...notes of flaws, tears, stains, pencil marks, cover gloss, staple wear, creasing, etc. I suppose if we really wanted to soak somebody, we'd have it sent to one of those "professional grading services" to get one of those plastic coffins slapped on it, which seems to make some people open their pocketbooks a little wider, though we'd feel obligated to supply our own grade on the book along with whatever grade the service provides for it. Regardless, any information about the condition would be nice, aside from "none." (Or "Excellent to mint," which just tells me you don't know what you're talking about.)

  • This may be a SPOILER for Hulk #1, so you just watch yourself, mister.


    Okay, you spend months leading up to the debut of Hulk #1 with pictures of a big red Hulk. You get everyone's curiosity up..."hey, the Hulk is...red? What gives, man?" People are wondering, people are talking, they want to know about the red Hulk. Interest in the Hulk is high, coming off two well-received Hulk-related storylines (Planet Hulk and World War Hulk) so the time is ripe, at least for now, to unleash this new twist on the Hulk franchise.

    So Hulk #1 comes out...and there's no Red Hulk in the comic, aside from the cover, and a "next issue" ad in the back. Green Hulk appears, in a flashback/"reconstruction of a crime scene" sequence, so the Hulk appears not at all in the present day storyline.

    This irritated a few of my customers. And I think it was a misjudgment, not having this much ballyhooed red Hulk even put in an appearance in his first issue. I'm all for building up to the reveal, but c'mon, folks were looking forward to seeing the red Hulk in action, but now they have to wait 'til the second issue (if they decide they still want it). I guess the cover and the next issue ad will have to do for now.

    That said...Hulk #1 actually wasn't too bad, all things considered. Ed McGuinness's art style is a perfect match for this book, and even Jeph Loeb manages a readable script that kept my interest. The comic takes all of two minutes to read, but it's a very pretty two minutes.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More prediction talk, and a couple New Comics Day comments. 

A few more predictions for 2008, from you, the reader:

Redhead Fangirl sez:

"My local comics shop guy says that some comic stores will go out of business in 2008 because of the economy."

I've mentioned before that comic sales seem to trend upwards when the economy is heading downwards...an assumption that appears to be shared by a number of folks on the publishing end of things, judging by some e-mails I received after I brought it up the last time. Not saying some comic shops won't go out of business...some of the Diamond invoices over the last month or two have been ridiculously ginormous, leaving some retailers scrambling to make ends meet. Of course, if the economy really takes a header, while the desire for some funnybook escapism may increase, $5 per gallon of gas and an endless parade of foreclosed homes may keep that money from reaching comic book sellers' pockets.

Mightygodking has this to say for himself:

"...Somebody is going to put together an eMusic-like .CBR/.CBZ pay-downloading site that isn't company exclusive, get most of the indies and Dark Horse to sign on, and debut in early 2009 with a bang and make a shitload of money, and eventually DC and Marvel will sign on with them."

Now that's not a bad idea...having a central download store, rather than each publisher having their own storefront, would possibly go a long way to encouraging "one stop shopping" for downloadable comics. If such a thing were enough of a success to tempt Marvel and DC, though, I'd expect the Big Two would simply crib the business model for their own use rather than share the profits with another company. Unless, of course, this theoretical downloadable-comic store is so huge and successful, the one place you have to go to buy your online comics, that Marvel and DC pretty much have to go with them if they want anyone to buy their stuff.

Hopefully, however it shakes out, there won't be any foolin' around with DRM protection since 1) that discourages sales, and 2) it generally takes some bored teenager in Ohio about ten minutes to break any DRM scheme any company can come up with.

EDIT: And, as has been pointed out to me, Marvel and DC offering downloads on new material would almost certainly raise objections from retailers, and likely Diamond as well. Yeah, yeah, I know, that's "old retailing" thinking, but we're still quite a ways away from a download model like this being viable, at least for the Big Two. Every time there's an attempt to cut out the middle man by the big publishers, a crapstorm arises, and "hey, kids, buy your new comics online!" would cause some problems, at least in today's marketplace. I can think of a workaround or two, and ways to allow downloads like this that don't cut out the comic retailers that already exist, but perhaps that's a post for another time rather than an after-the-fact edit on this post.

Googum googums:

"...One of the little sub-publishing lines like Wildstorm or Marvel Max or maybe even Vertigo will bag out of the monthly comic racket entirely, going all trade/OGN or online first or something."

I was actually considering predicting something like this, myself. A year may be too soon for one of these imprints to make the shift entirely to TP, and at least one (Vertigo) still has enough strong-selling monthlies to keep the periodical format around. But I'm wondering when and where either Marvel or DC will take one of their established superhero properties and attempt a serialized trade format with it on, say, a quarterly or twice-yearly basis.

Googum also predicts:

"The mid-range comics keep getting shuffled: books like Catwoman, She-Hulk, Avengers: the Initiative, even Spider-Girl, won't be allowed to just coast along at their current level of sales. Relaunch will follow relaunch, making these books limited series without set ends."

Discussing comic reboots/relaunches with a friend of mine, I noted an observation I've made in my (ahem) several years of comics retailing. "Every jumping-on point is also a jumping-off point." Every time you make a clean break and attempt to start fresh, in an attempt to attract new readers, you also give some of the old readers, who've had just about enough, a convenient stopping point. So, hopefully, the publishers won't keep relaunching these titles, and instead attempt to rejuvenate them midstream without the artificial bump brought about with yet another new #1. Sure, restarting Spider-Girl gave the series a brief spurt in orders from retailers, but our orders are now back down to what they were before the relaunch, and I don't imagine we're the only ones.

Brian has lots to say, starting with:

"Comic book fans will complain, generally either about how the movies don't match up with the comic book continuity (The Joker isn't Red Hood!?!), or that the currently published books aren't appealing to the ideal newcomer, completely missing the point that comics are published to promote the movies, toys, and other tie-ins, not the other way around."

Well, "comic book fans complaining" is a gimme, my friend! But, yeah, even though Iron Man and Dark Knight look like they'll be pretty good and about as reasonable an adaptation of comic books that a real, adult movie-going audience would be willing to accept, there's always going to be someone not happy because some obscure, non-important bit of history won't be mentioned, despite the fact its inclusion would make no story sense or even derail the proceedings.

My favorite response is the postings of "well, this is what they should have done," followed with that fan's theoretical film's plot synopsis which no one in their right mind would ever, ever film.

Mark foresees:

"Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of its run: Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's FANTASTIC FOUR will get later and later."

Yeah...I'm thinking "fill-in artist, sooner or later" -- either that, or Fantastic Four will officially move to a quarterly schedule.

And finally, mighty Rich Handley unleashes this fever dream:

"DC will finally realize that Swamp Thing is the only comic that really matters in the grand scheme of things, canceling all its other books (aside from Hellblazer) to focus exclusively on its new AST (All-Swamp Thing) imprint. AST will produce 24 titles per month, each featuring a different writer-artist team's interpretation of Swamp Thing, and the multiverse will be restructed during a 52-part maxiseries entitled Swamp Crisis, in which it will be revealed that the Doug Wheeler and Gerry Conway runs actually took place in Swamp-515."

I FULLY SUPPORT THIS DEVELOPMENT. DC Comics...make this happen. But leave All Star Batman on the schedule, please...perhaps making it All Star Batman and Swamp Thing, The Muck-Encrusted Mockery of a Man.

In other news:
  • There's one thing I completely forgot about regarding this new thrice-monthly schedule on Amazing Spider-Man, but remembered as I was pulling books for the comic savers on Wednesday. I have several pull-list customers who, of the several Spidey-titles available, only had Amazing Spider-Man on their subscriptions. This wasn't just a case of people only buying ASM because of J. Michael Straczynski's writing, though that applied to a handful of them. Primarily a number of my customers just bought ASM because, of all the Spidey titles, that was the flagship Spidey title, the one least likely to go away. Or that they needed a Spidey fix, and just the one comic was enough.

    Well, that one monthly comic is suddenly becoming three, and the people who just bought ASM because they didn't want to buy two other monthly books starring Spider-Man are going to find themselves buying three Spidey books a month anyway (at least until the schedule collapses). I've already had a couple tentative "well, I'll try it out for now"s from pull list customers, and a handful of drops. And though I've only had a day's worth of sales to judge by, I don't know that ASM is selling any more than normal. We'll see.

  • Onslaught: Reborn #5 came out this week. Let's look at its release schedule, shall we?

    #1 - 11/29/06

    #2 - 12/28/06

    #3 - 03/07/07

    #4 - 07/25/07

    #5 - 01/09/08

    Oh for God's sake. What exactly was the hold-up on this comic? It certainly wasn't to add quality.

    But I will say this: at least it finished. It was no damned good, but you got an ending. You can't say that about Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine. (Well, you can say it was no damned good.)

  • The Teen Titans Lost Annual is finally out this week, after sitting on a shelf at DC for about three years. You know, having looked at it, and given the reason it was shelved ("too weird," as per artist Jay Stephens in this quote I related a while back)...why they would have held this back, given some of the stuff they have published, I have no idea. It's just pure goofy fun, and well worth your money. The late Bob Haney gets the last laugh, at long last.

    And it's got a killer sketchbook section by Nick Cardy. Killer, I say. That man wields a mighty pencil.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Another story "lost" to a reboot. 

This must be where Vibe got his skills:

You know, I would have gladly paid $3.45 plus $1.25 shipping just to have a Champion Breakdancer certificate. Not that I need a certificate to tell me that.

Anyway, I was just going to post the ad so we could all get big laffs out of it, but I pulled it out of a copy of Superman: The Secret Years #3 (April 1985), and I thought I'd say a couple words about the comic itself.

The Superman: The Secret Years four-issue mini-series takes place in that time period of the pre-Crisis Superman's history, between his life as Superboy in Smallville and the beginning of his career as Superman in Metropolis. It's a good series, written by Bob Rozakis...a transitory tale of a young Clark Kent suddenly faced with some very adult decisions and tragedies. (Hint: don't be a friend of Clark Kent that's not part of the main cast, or dire things will happen to you.)

In terms of the art, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that it's Curt Swan on pencils, and Kurt Schaffenberger on inks. The bad news is that the entire series is saddled with that Flexographic printing process, which I've gone on about before. Lettering is blotchy, color is off-register and also blotchy...here's a sample splash that doesn't look too bad:

Also, at least one of the two text pages at the end of the issue are rendered almost unreadable due to the poor printing.

It'd be nice if this could someday get a nice trade paperback reissue with a real printing job, except it's perhaps a little too out of continuity (made moot almost immediately by the big Superman reboot about a year after this series came out), which is a minor issue compared to the more important reason this won't get reprinted: the disputed legal status of the Superboy comics and related elements, which feature prominently in this series.

I also liked Frank Miller's covers for this series, a marked contrast from the artwork inside:

You can see scans of all four covers, at larger sizes, over at the Grand Comic Book Database.

So, in conclusion...hey, a breakdancing ad! Pretty funny, right?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Prediction commentary, part one. 

I thought I'd collect predictions for another day before discussing them, but, nah, I'm going to go ahead and talk about a few of them now. If you have more, go ahead and keep adding to the list...maybe we can all meet back here next year and see how we did.

I never did get around to posting my own predictions, so let me lay a couple on you now and see how I match up with the folks who left comments. No, I didn't read any of the comments yet. I will after I post these:

1. DC will further experiment with higher price points/expanded page count anthology-esque titles like Countdown to Mystery. I don't think we're going to say goodbye to the $2.99 format this year, but I think its end is likely near...$3.25 or $3.50 is imminent.

2. The Spider-Man "One More Day" boondoggle won't be reversed, at least certainly not within its first year...that would be tantamount to Marvel admitting it made a mistake, and we know how they don't like that. (Look how long it took for them to finally start doing 2nd printings again, after years of crippled sales on start-up books.) However, I think, at least from the creative end, the problems involved in this reboot will become increasingly evident (from "continuity patches" to the undermining of reader confidence in Marvel's storytelling).

3. Final Crisis will be a straightforward and clever mini-series, as these events go, which will be decried as "weird" and "hard to understand" by the usual suspects because Grant Morrison is writing.

4. Sales on the next Stephen King's Dark Tower series will be nowhere near the sales on the previous mini. It'll be ordered high, certainly, and the first issue might sell well, but the drop-off will occur even more quickly than it did on the initial series, as the hardcore King fans will just wait for the next collection.

5. On a related note...some comic from Marvel or DC will be hailed as the "breakout comic" that finally gets the general non-comic-reading audience to start buying funnybooks on a regular basis, while ignoring the fact that said general audience is only buying that "breakout" comic and nothing else.

6. And finally, comic fans will finally catch up to me and realize the inherent beauty, humor, and satire of All Star Batman and Robin. I will be hailed as a genius of incredible foresight for being the internet's primary proponent of ASB so early on in that book's history. Money and awards will be showered upon me, women (and 10% of the men) will throw themselves at me, and I will go down in history as the comic internet's wisest, and most stunningly handsome, observer.

Okay, lemme look at what you folks had to say.

(tempus fugit)

Whoo boy. Well, let me get started, and I may continue this over a day or two, if that's okay with you folks. Like I said above, go ahead and keep adding your predictions if you'd like.

  • There are a few comments about Marvel and DC's online initiatives and their likely failures, and sad to say I'm inclined to agree. I don't think either are going to go away this year, but I suspect we'll see some rethinking about how they're handled. In particular, Marvel will likely begin (or at least think about beginning) to offer their entire libraries for online reading, and a lot shorter delay between a book being on the shelves and being available online. Yes, that'll annoy retailers, but historically Marvel doesn't tend to let retailer concerns guide their business decisions.

    I agree with P-TOR in that I don't think Marvel will permit downloadable comics, preferring instead to "stream" the books online and maintain control over their properties, which is the exact opposite of what end users want. In the meantime, like Harvey says, Marvel (and DC) will continue to make futile efforts in stopping illegal scanning 'n' downloading of their books.

  • I honestly don't think Joe Quesada (or Dan Didio, for that matter) are going to get fired. They've both increased sales across the board on their comics. That ain't a firin' offense. For all the crap Countdown is getting online, it sure is being ordered by retailers like it's selling in their stores. And I don't think the Spidey reboot Quesada forced down everyone's throat is going to adversely affect sales, at least not right away. I think it would take something a lot more catastrophic for a forced career change to occur, and I don't think either Marvel or DC are doing to risk doing anything that would result in a catastrophe of sufficient proportions.

  • A few folks bring up the idea that the new, semi-weekly Amazing Spider-Man book won't be nearly as successful as Marvel's hoping, which I think is a given. I don't think it'll be a bomb, but I think the new schedule will be reconsidered by the end of the year, like both Harvey and Jeff R. note. I don't think we'll see a total roll-back, but I think we might see enough scheduling difficulties that the three per month schedule will be knocked back to biweekly.

  • The Iron Man movie surprisingly gets a couple knocks, even though it seems to me that it's quite highly anticipated, even among the people who are usually cranky and cynical about this sort of thing. By which I mean "me," since even I'm kinda looking forward to it. Whether it'll do well enough to be a film-franchise launcher, I don't know, but I think it'll be reasonably successful.

  • Jon thinks it'll come out, pal Dorian says nay, and I know you folks want to know where I stand on the matter.

    Well, Ultimate Hulk Vs. Wolverine #3, on the cusp of being two years late...will it come out this year?

    I want to say that it'll go the way of that one Kevin Smith Daredevil series, which ended up being so late that they cancelled the book outright. But I don't know that even Marvel would want to screw the retailers with another vaporware book.

    I'm going to say...we'll hear some talk about it "being worked on" and "almost ready to come out," and we may even get another reprinting of the first two issues. And if we see any issues, it'll feature a "co-writer" or an entirely new writer that can actually finish the book. A book, that features Wolverine. Fighting the Hulk. What is the difficulty, exactly?

  • Tony mentions something that I've touched on before on the site...that the zombie fad will finally peter out this year, but not before Marvel Zombies 3. That seems to be supported by our sales on the book...it's not selling badly, by any means, but it's not the "Marvel's printing money!" of the previous series. A third series will likely be enough...unless, of course, we get a company-wide Marvel Zombies crossover, with the zombies invading the mainstream Marvel Universe and superhero vs. zombie hijinks ensue. That should kill the trend once and for all.

    Walking Dead seems to be a solid enough book to outlast the zombie fad crash, but I think any other zombie-heavy books may see their end. Good Lord, the things I find myself writing.

  • From "Aqualad," who predicts:

    "DC will find a way to start up a new weekly, this one focusing on Zatanna, Ambush Bug, a time-thrown Matter-Eater Lad, Metamorpho, CM3 and a newly restored Aztek finding their rightful places in the multiverse. Buttons will be made."

    I wholeheartedly support this idea. But, please sir, "Captain Marvel, Jr." I never cottoned to that "CM3" business.

I'll probably cover more of the predictions tomorrow, so please feel free to add more to the original list.

If you have commentary on the predictions themselves, please try to keep it to the comments section for today's post, just for simplicity's sake.

Thanks for participating, internet pals. I really do appreciate it and enjoy reading everything you have to say.

Monday, January 07, 2008


I'm putting out a call for your predictions! What do you think is going to happen in the comics industry during 2008? What events do you think are going to impact the business? Which delivery formats will live, and which will die? What will sell well, what will disappear without a trace?

If you have a prediction, or two, or five, just drop them in the comments section. I'll drop my own in there during the day, sometime.

A couple rules:

1. Don't read the other predictions before entering your own! I'm curious to see how many people come up with similar ideas...that might tell us something about common perceptions of the industry.

2. Don't criticize other people's predictions...there'll be a chance to discuss the likelihood, or lack thereof, of some predictions in my forthcoming post analyzing the contributions. I would prefer not to have any arguments break out in my comments section.

3. Don't predict anyone's death. I mean, honestly.

So, if you have some predictions, please feel free to let me know what they are. Remember, it's all in fun, and maybe, just maybe, we might learn a little something. (Learning not guaranteed.)

In the meantime, here's where I grabbed the above still, to give you a little context for the "Kit-La Predicts!" thing:

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Libraries and lamentations. 

So I'm putting together yet another collection of comic books (not trades or manga...comic books specifically were requested) for one of our local libraries, as I do on a fairly regular basis. The head children's librarian, looking for comics appropriate for the under-10 age range, sent along a list of requests based on titles I've sold to the library in the past, their relative demand/circulation at their branch, and patron requests.

The most requested title? Pokemon. Apparently the Pokemon comics we've sent before went over like gangbusters with the kids, and they're dying for more. Alas, my Pokemon selection is finally slimming down a bit, as there's been a resurgence of interest in this franchise of late, not just in comics but, apparently, in the trading card game as well, judging by how they're doing at the game store next door.

Near the top of the list are Looney Tunes, Transformers, and the DC animated superhero stuff (including Legion of Super-Heroes).

At the very bottom of the list were the Classics Illustrated Junior reprints that have been coming out lately. Guess they're a little too old-fashioned for the modern jet-set kids.

Next to the last on the list (and, in fact, when I spoke to the librarian on the phone, she specifically requested "don't send any of these...nobody likes them"): Archie Comics.

Now, when I worked at a public library, in my long-ago pre-comics retail days, we had a subscription to a handful of Archie comic series. (I still have the fan club button and multi-ink pen Archie sent us as part of the sub.) We'd get them in, and (comic collector mint hounds, avert your eyes!) we'd use clear packing tape to reinforce the spines and covers in order to keep them intact after being lovingly handled by the little darlings. And, while they weren't the most popular items in the library, they'd still get checked out or read at the tables in the children's section.

It's possible that even the less popular comics we're selling to the libraries are still getting read, even if the circulations stats show that they're not going home with anyone. But given that the librarian singled out the Archie comics by name as being of little or no interest to her patrons...well, that strikes me as just a little sad.

But given Archie Comics' attempt to drop Josie and the Pussycats creator / Sabrina the Teenage Witch cocreator Dan DeCarlo into the memory hole...well, perhaps we can consider those kids' disinterest a little karmic payback.

Of course, TV has a lot to do with it...it's been a while since the hellishly-annoying Archie cartoons of my youth were on the air, and I've no idea of kids' current awareness of the recent Josie or Sabrina live-action efforts. But Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead...even with having that sweet spot for the digests up by the supermarket cash registers isn't helping their Q ratings with kids. I'm still selling Archie comics to kids at the shop, so the line isn't entirely dead, but, he said in the most obvious conclusion ever, they're not what they once were. (But then, what comic is?)


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