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In which I don’t spoil the Fantastic Four “death.”

§ January 26th, 2011 § Filed under death of superman, investing, retailing § 15 Comments

So the new Fantastic Four is the way-overhyped “death” issue, in which it looks bad for the character in question, sure, but not necessarily a cut ‘n’ dried demise by any means. I’m not going to get into spoilers, for those of you who’ve managed to miss the media blitz about the event which happily revealed the comic’s alleged starring corpse, but anyone reading the story can see it for the “all the other characters think this character is dead, but we’ll eventually catch up to that character and see what he/she’s been up to in the months during the apparent deceased-ness” situation that it is.

Not blaming the creative team of the book, I should note, which has been turning out a solid adventure serial. Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting are presenting complex, interesting, intelligent and still fun superhero stories. This “death” was clearly just a plot twist in an ongoing saga that got blown out of proportion to a general audience of non-comic-readers who are becoming increasingly wary of these stunts. (Let me link again to this post of mine about this sort of promotion.) Unfortunately, I can’t really blame Marvel for this promotional stunt, as it’s hard to get widespread mainstream attention on comics that isn’t “somebody dies, no really!” or “soon to be a movie!” or “this comic has a swear in it, WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN” or, as pal Dorian noted to me, “found strewn about the killer’s apartment….” It’s a shame you usually can’t get this amount of attention simply by saying “this is a good comic people might enjoy,” but the saying isn’t “if it reads, it leads,” after all. You need a gimmick, and “SOMEBODY DIES!” is the one that gets the real world attention. Conversely, “SOMEBODY COMES BACK!” never works as well in grabbing the public, as every return of a dead character since that white-bagged Adventures of Superman #500 has shown.

It’s interesting to see that even the mainstream news media stories are now including the implied “what, again?” eyeroll regarding this kind of marketing stunt (such as in this spoiler-filled article), which may further undermine the influx of magpies clutching at the shiny investment potential of yet another temporary death. Especially since the last few have been reversed relatively quickly, turning hypothetical fortunes into just so much polybagged paper.

Ultimately, I expect we’ll sell out of this new FF…we didn’t go overboard on ordering it, and it comes sealed in a familiar-looking if fairly pixelated black bag which will certainly grab attention. But if we do get some new folks in looking for the comic, it’ll once again be a one-shot media-fueled bump, bringing a few bucks into the comics marketplace, but won’t be built upon, won’t be sustained, and will only return when the next “death” comes along, assuming there are still some people left who’ll continue to buy into the hype. The returns diminish each and every time.

Well, I’m certainly Mr. Downer-Pants. Here, let a little stuffed bull treat the topic at hand in the best way anyone can…with big laffs!

“Order proud!”

§ May 16th, 2010 § Filed under death of superman § 7 Comments

This is a 1993 promotional card sent out to retailers plugging Wizard‘s tie-in to the whole “Death of Superman” brouhaha. The front is a shiny silver with embossed lettering, which is the sort of thing that never really comes through that well when I scan it, but you get the idea:

The back has all the important details you need to know:

In fairness, 1) it did have huge sales, but I’m not sure it was entirely due to whatever they were calling “foil covers” that week…frankly, it could have been a plain brown wrapper with stick figures drawn by the publisher’s 3-year-old nephew and it would have sold like gangbusters during the “Death of Superman” feeding frenzy; and 2) we did indeed sell every issue we ordered. Actually, as I recall this particular special was pretty good…lots of interviews and interesting features and, I have to admit, the cover was pretty snazzy.

Not sure what the whole “order proud!” thing was about, unless I’m not recalling our chests swelling with pride as we jotted down our numbers in the Previews order form. Ah, well.

Also, they used “its” when they meant “it’s.” C’MON, PEOPLE.

• • •

In totally unrelated news, I’d better note this article before my email box is filled with messages telling me about it:

“Justin Bieber to Star in Remake of Swamp Thing”

“‘We feel we had a lot to develop from Wes Craven’s original Swamp Thing,” said director Kenny Ortega, ‘Like more back-story on Dr. Alec Holland, or a more sinister Dr. Arcane, and, of course, more of Swamp Thing singing.'”

I can see wanting to use 4 of these 5 Death of Superman stickers from 1992…

§ April 6th, 2010 § Filed under death of superman § 2 Comments

…but I don’t know about that one in the bottom right-hand corner. That would have been a bit odd to have slapped on your school binder or whatever.

Yet another "Death of Superman" post.

§ October 29th, 2007 § Filed under death of superman Comments Off on Yet another "Death of Superman" post.

Finally got around to seeing Superman/Doomsday, DC’s inaugural effort in their new line of direct-to-DVD animated movies. So, now I can go back and read all the reviews and such that I sorta glossed over for the last month while avoiding “spoilers.” (Wait…Superman died, and came back? Get outta here!)

The film itself is fine, if a very stripped down, simplistic version of the near-epic “Death/Return of Superman” storyline from the early ’90s. While one could fill, oh, say, an entire blog post of the differences between the original comic book version of the story and the animated version, there is one primary difference I wanted to note. And this difference is intrinsic to the formats these two interpretations of the story have taken.

The actual impact of Superman’s death in the course of this story (um…SPOILER, I guess?) is much, much less in the cartoon, if only because Superman’s removal from the narrative is all of about fifteen minutes or so. It’s just a very brief plot twist, there to give Luthor the opportunity to replace him with with a clone Superman under his command. The real Supes eventually wakes up, recovers in his Fortress, and comes back for the big fight scene. The end. The viewer never really feels that Superman is gone, because, well, “how can I miss you when you won’t go away?”

On the other hand…after Superman’s death in the funnybooks, he was gone. For the couple months that followed, we had Superman books with no Superman…pages filled with funerals and tributes and mourners and no real clue given as to how Superman would eventually return. The Superman books even went on a brief hiatus…they stopped publishing for a month or so, which I was going to say would be unheard of today, delaying publication of a top selling comic book. But then I remembered DC’s botched relaunch of Wonder Woman, and Marvel’s year and a half (and growing) gap between issues of Ultimate Hulk/Wolverine, et al, so it’s not so uncommon nowadays, really.

But it really did make an impact when the Superman books stopped publishing, even for as briefly as they did, as the four Super-books had functioned essentially as one weekly title, a new issue of each Superman series every week. To have that schedule interrupted underscored the alleged death of the character. Okay, we had specials and whatnot in the interim, and when the titles relaunched a few weeks later, we still had no Superman. We had folks who took the Superman name, and maybe one or two who could have been a drastically changed Big Blue, but things weren’t quite back to normal yet…and it would still be a couple months before the situation was resolved.

In short, the comics gave us time to get used to the idea, to really feel the impact, of Superman being gone. The movie doesn’t. And, like I said, it’s intrinsic to the format…it can’t really be considered a criticism, because it’s not like the film could end with Superman’s death, with a note to “come back in Summer ’08 for the shocking conclusion.” Of course, no one familiar with comics really thought Superman was gone for good, but that extra gap the comics provided helped enhance the illusion.

The primary special feature on the disc is a longish documentary of the original “Death/Return” comics, with plenty of interviews with the folks responsible and lots of memories of the madness that followed. Period footage (I’m using “period” to refer to events from fifteen years ago…is that overstating it?) shows what the actual “Super-retreat” editorial meetings looked like, where the creative teams got together and hammered out the Superman plots for the following year. I’d always pictured editor Mike Carlin sitting in a throne like this one, making decrees with a wave of his scepter (tipped with the “S” logo), but seeing the actual meeting room in the documentary has spoiled that vision a bit.

There are some close-ups of the the white boards being used for plot notes in the meeting room, which allows for some DVD-pausin’ fun:

For some reason, the big “FIGHT!!!” notes make me laugh:

Interestingly, when discussing the four replacement Supermen that turned up in the “Return of Superman” storyline, Superboy is (aside from a brief shot of his legs) never shown onscreen. When discussing Steel, or the Cyborg Superman, and so on, lots and lots and lots of images from the comics featuring those characters are presented. Superboy? Nada. (Presumably because of this, I’m guessing.)

Something else I’ve learned from this documentary: creator Dan Jurgens does not age. The man still looks like he’s in high school. Clearly he’s found the Fountain of Youth, and must be forced to divulge its location.

There’s also a brief documentary focusing on the vocal talents behind the cartoon (Ray Wise as Perry White? No way!), which suffers from an extreme lack of any screentime for John DiMaggio, the voice of Futurama‘s Bender and the voice of the Toyman from this Superman cartoon. We also get a commentary track (which I haven’t listened to yet), a preview of the next animated film (The New Frontier, which doesn’t look half-bad), and one of those DVD games which I didn’t have the patience to try. Sorry.

Overall…slight but watchable, with good vocal performances, some satisfyingly destructive action scenes, and backed up with a solid documentary about the comics themselves. If you’re expecting anything close to the story that the original comics provided, forget about it. Taken on its own, however, it’s not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

In other news:

  • Apparently Green Lantern is on track to being a film, again, with more directors and writers and such tied to the project. Well, I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m still disappointed we’re not getting the Jack Black version, which would have kicked ass and you know it.

    From another article on the subject:

    “Michael Green, who also has prior experience with Berlanti on Everwood and Jack & Bobby, wrote Superman/Batman for Marvel Comics.”


  • An article from my alma mater’s campus newspaper talks about Halloween costumes, and includes this passage of absolute truth:

    “One idea you may consider is being Wonder Woman or Swamp Thing, especially since Swamp Thing is probably the biggest badass ever.”

    You’re damn right. Though having Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman in the same sentence there briefly put the image of Swampy in WW’s bathing suit costume and tiara, and I don’t think I need that idea in my head. Get out, get out!

It’s time once again for my semi-occasional, govenmentally-mandated post on "The Death of Superman."

§ August 20th, 2007 § Filed under death of superman § 3 Comments

So here’s another buried treasure from the depths of our backroom:

Straight from 1993 and right into all of our hearts is this commemorative poster by Dan Jurgen and Brett Breeding for that one time Superman died for a couple of months.

For you folks who only know the Vertigo Comics Swampy, proof that he used to hang with the DC Universe at large:

Deathstroke the Terminator puts in an appearance, one of the few villains to do so in this image:

This was about the time DC was pushing Deathstroke as a Punisher-esque “anti-hero” rather than the out-and-out villain he is now. I have a hard time imagining the current, post-Identity Crisis Deathstroke having his presence tolerated by the other heroes.

I’ll take “more-or-less forgotten DC characters” for $100, Alex:

Yeah, I know you all recognize Agent Liberty, but really, that character didn’t stick around too long, did he? (Has he put in an appearance anywhere, lately? Seems like he’d pop up in Checkmate or something.)

Here’s the second villain appearance in this poster:

Okay, I can see Darkseid acknowledging the death of a respected foe, raising his chalice of sparkling cider in tribute, but at Casa de Darkseid back on Apokalips. I just can’t see him marching along with everyone else in a funeral procession, particularly with a Dead Superman armband. I mean, c’mon, it’s Darkseid. Just seems slightly out of character.

Here’s another Vertigo headliner, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, staring at the back of the Ray’s shiny, shiny helmet:

And, hey, it’s Booster Gold, heading up the funeral procession, and one of the major focuses of the entire image:

Huh, wonder why Booster got such preferential treatme…

…oh, yeah.

Here are Elongated Man and Power Girl, in mourning not just for Superman, but for their costuming choices:

I actually kinda like these briefly-used costumes for the Hawk-folks:

Alas, they’re from the period of the Hawkman reboot, so they also remind me of how the characters were nearly broken what with all of DC’s continuity shenanigans.

While I liked Kelley Jones’ redesign of Deadman, it’s one of those designs that only works if Jones does it:

And I had a sneaking suspicion about this, and the Wikipedia article also notes it, so I guess I’m not imagining things…but I believe the Bloodwynd identity (at the lower left) was being assumed by the also-pictured Martian Manhunter at the time of “The Death of Superman.”

Not pictured (mostly): an uncomfortable number of Team Titans and Darkstars. I always love how pieces of merchandise like this are such snapshots of comic book continuity of the time. In fact, I saw a fella at the store on Sunday wearing a Mullet Superman t-shirt. The storylines may be dead, but the merchandise lives on.

Because I can’t get enough of the "Death of Superman," it seems.

§ April 22nd, 2006 § Filed under death of superman Comments Off on Because I can’t get enough of the "Death of Superman," it seems.

That image to the right is taken from this auction…apparently an actual granite tombstone, used as a promotional item for the “Death of Superman” storyline. I honestly have never heard of such a thing. Please note this bit from the auction’s description: “BOTTOM 4 INCHES OF THE TOMBSTONE IN [sic] STAINED FROM BEING LEFT ON THE GROUND(OUTDOORS).” Goodness.

While trying to Google up more information about this item, I found someone who produced his own out of styrofoam (along with a reproduction of the “tattered cape” image).

I think I’ve noted before on this site that, shortly after the original black-bagged “Death of Superman” issue (Superman #75) was released, there was a lot of panic buying and hugely inflated prices taking advantage of said panic buying. $200 was the craziest price I heard, and this was less than a week after the comic had sold out. Nowadays we regularly sell sealed copies for $18 a pop (which is the highest we’ve ever priced this particular book, which surprises some people when I tell them this). Looking at auctions on the eBay, copies tend to sell between $5 and $20, though there is the occasional person with high hopes.

This item isn’t specifically a “Death of Superman” tie-in, but any auction with the title “SUPERMAN BLOODY DEATH BLOOD DRIPPING DC SHIRT” deserves special attention. However, there was an official “Death of Superman” t-shirt, as I’m sure most of you recall, featuring that tasteful red bloody “S” from the bag covering Superman #75, printed against a black background. I still see people wearing them around town on occasion…whether they’re original owners or just picked them up in one of our many fine local thrift stores, I’m not sure.

There was another t-shirt design, one showing superheroes carrying Supes’ coffin. You know, the more I think about that superhero pallbearers shirt, the tackier it seems. Good Lord, people wore this. The other thing I remember about that shirt is that the image was taken from the poster that came with Superman #75, and Batman was one of the pallbearers*. Due to licensing issues, Batman was replaced by Captain Marvel for the t-shirt design (and, I believe, when that image was used in the tie-in trading card set).

And dig that belt buckle.

* Wouldn’t having Batman as one of the pallbearers at a very public funeral service put lie to to the “Batman is an urban legend/public doesn’t know if he’s real” editorial direction the character had been under for a while? Of course, the scene on the poster doesn’t occur in the comics themselves, so I guess that was their “out.”

In which Mike goes on way too long about things that happened 12 years ago.

§ September 12th, 2005 § Filed under death of superman, market crash, valiant § 3 Comments

So we purchased yet another comic collection the other day, and in this one was a copy of Adventures of Superman #500. “Oh, big deal,” you’re surely saying, “every comic book store has about a bazillion of those damn things.” And, ordinarily, you’d be correct, but this is the platinum edition, friends. It’s packaged in a black bag with a silver super-“S” on the front, and with the phrase “limited platinum edition” (or something like that) printed along the bottom.

Okay, now you can say “oh, big deal.”

What amused me about this comic is that, like its non-platinum counterpart, it is sealed in the bag so that you can’t see the comic inside without opening up the bag. And the comic inside is also some kind of variant as, unlike the regular edition, the letters of the Adventures of Superman logo are embossed and raised up from the cover.

Now, the sort of person who is interested in buying the limited “collector’s” edition of the pre-bagged Adventures of Superman #500 wouldn’t be terribly likely to open up the bag and, um, appreciate the variance of the cover inside, I’d imagine.

Maybe I’m wrong…perhaps whoever buys this will not care about maintaining full resale value, and oh so carefully trim open the top of the plastic bag in order to slip the book out. (And yeah, I believe that Overstreet Price Guide‘s official policy is that carefully opening a prepackaged-in-a-polybag comic doesn’t affect the value, but as someone who sells these things for a living, it doesn’t work like that in the wild.)

Anyway, the point of all this was that, of late, I’d been reflecting back on the big comics market crash of the early ’90s. Specifically, which comic you could point at and say, “the market crash began with this very issue.”

For several years, the comic I pointed at as being the turning point for the comics industry decline was Turok #1 from Valiant Comics. When Valiant first started their superhero line, their books were warming shelves coast-to-coast initially, but all of a sudden, a collector’s frenzy (spurred on by the new price guide magazine Wizard, and an influx of collectors/investors from the then recently-collapsed sports card market*) sprung up around these books. Prices began to skyrocket on early Valiant issues, which were being ballyhooed as hot, rare, investable items. New #1s flew off the shelves, and sometimes we even had to tag the new books with “1 per customer” signs — and, as I noted before, that tended to encourage further sales.

And then Turok #1 was announced for release in 1993. Comic fans (including me) had fond memories of the original Dell/Gold Key Turok Son of Stone series, and the investors who couldn’t care less about comics industry were still excited about yet another Valiant Comics #1. Plus, it was going to have a shiny “chromium” cover, and people liked the chromium back in the day. Plus, Turok was introduced to the Valiant Universe in 1992’s Magnus Robot Fighter #12, which was commanding some significant coin of the realm in the secondary market.

So, basically, perceived demand was high.

Retailers, who were getting the “high demand” vibes for the book, ordered massive numbers. Turok #1 was going to be like printing money, for certain!

Well, even if you weren’t there for it at the time, I’m sure you see where this is going.

Since everyone ordered large numbers on Turok #1, there was plenty to be had. Racks were overflowing with Turok #1. Part of the collecting appeal of Valiant Comics was the apparent scarcity…Turok #1 was the exact opposite of “scarce.” The investors who preordered dozens (or hundreds) of copies quickly realized that there was no way they were going to be able to turn them around into quick cash. And retailers realized that there was far more Turok out there than there was demand. Some people began blowing out copies of Turok for below cover, further damaging the perceived collectible value of Valiant Comics, and comics in general.

Plus, the chromium cover ended up being an embossed cover with a oversized chromium card glued to the front. It’s not bad looking by any means, but people were expecting an actual full-chromium cover and not a glued-on card. It may be that’s what was originally solicited, but it wasn’t what people were expecting.

It’s not as if the market immediately collapsed into nothingness following the release of Turok #1, but I think we all really began to realize that the glory days were over, and more and more collectors began trying to divest themselves of their investments over the following months…and years.

Another possible “death-knell” for the ’90s comics boom was the aforementioned Adventures of Superman #500. If you remember the day Superman #75, the “Death of Superman” comic, came out, most comic shops were madhouses. Apparently a slow news week combined with increased media interest in comics resulted in a lot of news coverage of this particular storyline, and it seemed like everybody wanted to be in on it. On the day it came out, we had a line of people outside our store, stretched down the block waiting for us to open.

Now, keep in mind that we ordered Superman #75 a few months in advance, with absolutely no knowledge of what was to come. We did bump orders up to about four times what we normally received on our Superman books, which were okay sellers at the time, but nothing outstanding. So, seeing that line outside the store, we were forced to do the “1 per customer” thing, even posting signs in the window stating as such. Well, let me tell you, that pissed off some people something fierce, but if I had to choose between having someone mad at me because they one got one copy of Superman #75 and having everyone mad at me because they couldn’t get any copies due to the first person in the door buying everything we had, well, it’s not really much of a choice, is it?

And it was crazy even past that first day. I had huge waiting lists for fourth printings of Superman #75. That may seem like crazy talk, but I swear it’s true.

So the “Death of Superman” story wraps up, the “Funeral for a Friend” storyline that follows wraps up, and the Superman books go on a very brief publishing hiatus.

And now, we have to order Adventures of Superman #500.

This isn’t the issue where Superman comes back to life, but it is the kick-off for the long storyline that eventually would lead into the return of Big Blue. Demand is still huge for the Superman comics. People come by or call every day asking about what’s up with Superman. “Is he back yet? Is he back yet?

So, thinking about what we could have sold on the original, black-bagged, “collectors” edition of Superman #75 had we only known of the buying frenzy to follow, and considering the interest we were still getting in Superman, we place our orders for the white-bagged Adventures of Superman #500.

And so does most every other retailer.

You see where I’m going with this?

When Adventures of Superman #500 comes out, while it does sell relatively well, there’s no attendant media push. The “Death of Superman” thing is old news, why should the media cover it again? Thus, there’s no huge audience of “civilians” who otherwise couldn’t care less about comic books lining up outside comic shops waiting to get their hands on the next new collectible. It’s not a dog like Turok #1 was, but there’s still plenty to be had, and for the investors that can drive collecting frenzies like the one for Superman #75, a lack of scarcity can only mean the bloom is off the investing rose (or, um, something like that). Coupled with the sudden realization that perhaps the black-bagged Superman #75 isn’t worth the premium prices paid on the secondary market (at the time, I heard about someone selling them for $100!), this too surely was a contributor to the comics market crash.

Now this was just local market conditions…for all I know, someone in Wisconsin was selling Turok #1s and Adventures of Superman #500s like they had twenty-dollar bills stapled to the cover**, but it seemed to me that these two books did indeed mark the point where the comics market began its decline, as readers became disenchanted with event books and variant covers, as investors bailed out and starting buying toys and Beanie Babies instead, as comic stores started to shut down across the nation (we lost about seven or so in our tri-county area during that period)…wow, I’m bumming myself out, here. We were able to ride out that rough spot, but in some ways our store (and others, I’m sure) are still recovering from that huge crash.

It was a hard time, with some hard lessons learned regarding our own ordering habits…no one forced us to order that many Turoks, for example, but it sure seemed at the time like we wouldn’t have any problem moving them! Of course, I’m moving them now…I’m blowing them out in our bargain boxes. I don’t think I’ve had anyone pay cover price for a Turok #1 in years. Adventures of Superman #500 does still sell on occasion, but we have a pretty good clientele for Superman books, so that’s not too surprising. We’ve still got plenty of ’em, though.

So, does anyone else have any likely culprits which, like Turok #1 or Adventures of Superman #500, seemed to trigger the ’90s comic market crash?

* I could tell the new comic collectors fresh from the sports card market by the way they asked for “comic book Becketts.”

** If they did have twenties stapled to the covers, you could be sure someone would complain “but, but…it’s not mint!”

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