This will be a good comic... good enough?
January 5, 2005 1:55 PM   Subscribe

ComicsFilter (but bear with me): Frank Miller & Jim Lee will be the writer and artist, respectively, of All-Star Batman and Robin, a new miniseries intended to make the characters simple, interesting, and easy to follow after decades of backstory. Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely were announced to be doing the same thing on All-Star Superman, and any comics fan will tell you that these four guys are some of the best in the entire field. Between these two projects, DC Comics most likely has the top-selling books in the tiny comics industry sewn up for most of 2005, which is reason enough to publish them.

But there's also a question for non-comics readers here at MeFi: DC are really doing this for you. They want new readers (best-selling comics are lucky to top 150,000 copies these days), and they think publishing accessible comic books linked to the release of large movies (The Christopher Nolan film Batman Begins, based in part on Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, will be released roughly alongside All-Star Batman & Robin) is the way to do it. But is there a snowball's chance in hell you'd read something like this? Would your kids, if you have them, be interested, do you think? (Frank Miller, it bears noting, is also the creator and co-director of Sin City, a film you might've seen a preview for recently -- truly insane cast.)
posted by logovisual (68 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I highly recommend the trailer. No idea if the movie will be any good, but I can't believe how it captures the look of That Yellow Bastard.

Somewhat on-topic: I tricked my SO into taking "a look at" Y: The Last Man this week. She's bugging me for the other trades already.
posted by yerfatma at 2:19 PM on January 5, 2005

I gave up on Marvel & DC comics years ago because they just got repetitive and boring. Dumbing it down further won't help, I don't think.

I'll just keep tossing my money at Slave Labour and Fantagraphics.
posted by cmonkey at 2:20 PM on January 5, 2005

So, I'm still not sure about 'realistic' comics. Sales are always crap when comics get 'realistic' and sales are particularly crap right now, considering the wide-ranging public acceptance of superhero stories in other media. So Frank and I are keeping modern sensibilities in mind while trying to make sure that each of our stories addresses some basic human fear or need in a big, colorful, comic book way. We hope to produce a collection of science fiction folk tales with Superman at the heart of them. I like to think of these stories as 'relevant' to the human condition although not necessarily relevant to the current headlines, if you see what I mean. The All Star Superman is intended to appeal to a wide audience of diverse people for a long time, like the Greek myths.

Sounds promising.
posted by rushmc at 2:22 PM on January 5, 2005

I'm going to read them, but I'm already a comic geek. However, I will pass them along to my 11 year old son, who finds the Supes and Bats mythology overwhelming, so we can both enjoy them. (He really liked Birthright for Superman, so I'm pretty sure that he's going to like this!)
posted by headspace at 2:24 PM on January 5, 2005

If history has been any guide, putting Morrison and Quitely on Superman will almost certainly not equate to "dumbing it down." There's a lot of repetitive and boring stuff being pumped out by DC abnd Marvel, but this should be pretty worthwhile.
posted by COBRA! at 2:25 PM on January 5, 2005

omigod, i have such a hard-on for that Sin City movie. the look is spot on from the comix (and frodo is kevin). i understand that miller/rodriguez are going to eventually do the entire series. yeah, i buy and read comix. but not too many lately. i like like some of the BM/SM stuff, but more than half of it is crap. i mostly stick to Hellboy and anything miller is involved with. and an occasional Heavy Metal. (there's a bigger trailer for Sin City that came out in september, but i can't seem to find it. most of the places that had it got rid of it for bandwidth. it's 54M and called sincity.mp4.)
posted by zombiejesus at 2:26 PM on January 5, 2005

Dumbing it down further won't help, I don't think.

Well, except to make it even more commercially viable for film tie-ins.
Right now even a single issue of your standard comic is too much for most moviegoers.

I doubt that extra hype will make it any better.
posted by milovoo at 2:29 PM on January 5, 2005

This is so funny this was posted today because I had a vagrant thought, while re-reading Kingdom Come, about how difficult it must be to assimilate nearly 75 years worth of Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman's history for a new comic book reader, especially given how much said histories have been Crisis/Zero Hour/Elseworld/"re-imagine"d.

Then I thought ... will there ever be any superheroic icons to replace those three in comics yet to come?

Great post.
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:30 PM on January 5, 2005

My high school and college cronies repeatedly tried to introduce me to the Joy of Comics, and at one point I even worked very closely with Roland Mann (the writer behind Silverline Comic's Cat and Mouse, and, later, a writer and editor at Malibu Comics).

Even so, (and even after a script or two of mine was published in comic format), I never really understood the allure of the medium. I'm a voracious reader ... but I was never a comic book reader.

That's not snobbery -- I just never came across a comic book with characters I cared about or storylines that moved or surprised me. (Of the dozens I tried, The Watchmen came closest to being an enjoyable read.)

Since I prefer fiction and film featuring complex characters and storylines, I'm certain that simplifying characters, streamlining stories, and making comics "more accessible" won't tempt me to spend this week's precious pleasure reading time with a comic book instead of a good novel.
posted by MadeByMark at 2:32 PM on January 5, 2005

Wait, wait, wait. Yet another revamp of the DC universe? How many is this now?

Frank Miller is good. Grant Morrison is pretty good. Jim Lee is kinda lazy. He obviously has great lines, but he doesn't work hard enough on panel layout and camera angles. I have no idea who Frank Quitely is, though I've been out of comics for more than a decade.

I'm hopeful for Batman Begins. I remember watching that tv parody by Burton and yelling at the screen. Yes, I was drunk at the time. It was so distressing. I wanted gritty realism, Burton delivered an overdone smoke-filled cartoon done in live action. All that was missing was some stupid teenage sidekick yelping, "Holy Hackwork, Batman!"

The trailer I've seen for Bats Begins didn't look like it was based in any part on Batman Year One. But it did look like it was set in the real world and not a gray set. But it still looked a little... tame.

I want Batman breaking bones. I want him borderline psychotic and on the business end of that border, not Mr Mom confused suffering from puppy wuv. I want him mean and angry. Brutal. I probably won't be drunk when I see this one, but I might yell if it turns into some Batman as Bruce Wayne in a Batman suit movie.

Okay, I guess I'm done.
posted by effwerd at 2:33 PM on January 5, 2005

I thought Strikes Back was a tad over the top, and I find Jim Lee's art a tad too polished at times, but I'm still buyin' nonetheless. Assuming Begins does well, will these new books serve as the foundation for the next movie? Who would you pick as Boy Wonder?
posted by manicroom at 2:35 PM on January 5, 2005

All-Star Batman and Robin, a new miniseries intended to make the characters simple, interesting, and easy to follow after decades of backstory.
So in other words, DC is doing what Marvel did four years ago with their Ultimate line. Considering how Ultimate Marvel was timed to launch with the first Spiderman and X-Men films, DC's choice to release the All-Star line on the heels of Batman Begins is pretty ... well ... uncanny.

Warren Ellis penned a column in 2000 regarding why Ultimate Marvel was a good idea and the logic holds for All-Star DC. Writers don't want to be handicapped by decades of backstory. The fans that slavishly want icons frozen in narrative stasis are a miniscule, but loud voice, and they really should be ignored.

DC's following Marvel's recipe almost step for step so I'd expect that All-Stars will be a success, unless the issues start turning into vaporware with production delays and lagging issues (though, the acclaim surrounding Marvel's Ultimate Avengers, which is the most laggy title in Ultimate line, shows that delivering late isn't a handicap if the story is solid)
posted by bl1nk at 2:36 PM on January 5, 2005

So DC finally decided to respond to the Ultimate Universe? Interesting.

on preview. damn. too slow.
posted by Stynxno at 2:38 PM on January 5, 2005

I am a casual but enthusiastic reader of crossover classics--think Los Bros Hernandez, Spiegelman, Gaiman, Sacco, Satrapi. The very little I know about the DC/Marvel universe(s) makes them look relatively unappealing, but I would read one of these All Stars just to see if I was missing anything.
posted by everichon at 2:42 PM on January 5, 2005

best-selling comics are lucky to top 150,000 copies these days. In the US.

In Europe comics sell a lot better. For instance, Danish-produced German weekly Micky Maus often reaches 1 million copies. And in Japan, of course, comic book sales for weeklies can reach five million copies.

So why don't Americans read comic books? And if they do, why only superhero comics?
posted by Panfilo at 2:50 PM on January 5, 2005

bl1nk, I'm not sure about the whole Ultimate reboot that Marvel did... at least, not on the X-Men side of things. Ultimate X-Men kind of sucked, in my opinion, while Grant Morrison's whole arc with The New X-Men was a far superior work. He nailed both Wolverine and Cyclops and treated them with love. [/comic-geek] There were gutsy bizarro-twists, and all that good stuff. Seeing him on this project piques my curiosity.
posted by verb at 2:51 PM on January 5, 2005

Speaking of comics and non-comic readers, what was with this WaPo review of alias that (for some reason) turns into a long anti-comics troll?
posted by BigPicnic at 2:53 PM on January 5, 2005

Sorry, screwed up the link, here it is.
posted by BigPicnic at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2005

Whew, for a second there I got artists Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld mixed up. Gave me a bit of a fright.
posted by Bugbread at 3:13 PM on January 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yes that Sin City trailer looks impressive. (Miller and Rodriguez are always big with the wow factor and skimpy on the emotion/character part.) But dammit, I think I've just about hit my breaking point on the comic-book-cum-movie thing. We're long overdue for a moratorium.
posted by fungible at 3:15 PM on January 5, 2005

BigPicnic that was a New York Times terrible review of Alias. Reading it, I thought the author had a bigger bone to pick at than just this series, perhaps something along the lines of fake action superheroes, male or female, are bad because they don't have "complex characters and storylines" as MadeByMark said.

More on topic, I wonder why these comic series "reboots" don't get the same gnashing and wailing I hear in the Star Trek world, especially when the debates get into what is and is not cannonical. Or do they?
posted by billsaysthis at 3:47 PM on January 5, 2005

Billsaysthis: Oh, hell yeah, they get the gnashing and wailing. But because there is so much more backstory (and trust me, no matter how much backstory you think Star Trek can have, what with the different series and the movies and the books and the fanfic, Marvel probably has more), there is a larger contingent of people who are fans but just plain given up. The result is that with Star Trek, generally the hardcore fans want cannon, and the softcore don't care. With superhero comics, some of the hardcore fans want cannon, some don't care, and the softcore don't generally care.

Which means you get amusing spectacles of superhardcore superhero geeks arguing from pretty even footing about whether cannon is important or not.
posted by Bugbread at 3:53 PM on January 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

billsaysthis, head on over to and look up the board for The Legion (formerly The Legion of Super-Heroes). Those poor kids have been re-booted/retconned/revamped so many times someone should call the 31st century equivalent of Child Protective Services for them. I call shenanigans Mr. Waid, and am getting my broom!

Also, Hal Jordan being retconned back into a nice guy? When Kyle Rayner is clearly the 2nd best Green Lantern (after original Alan Scott) evar? No.
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:58 PM on January 5, 2005

verb, when I mentioned Marvel Ultimate, it was just in comparison to DC's All-Star experiment -- and not holding it up as the be-all, end-all apotheosis of the superhero genre. It was a clever marketing decision that paid off for Marvel, and garnered quite a few new readers. It's reasonable to expect the same success for DC, especially considering the caliber of the writers behind the projects.

Of course, a successful marketing position doesn't necessarily translate into the best comics. I think Ultimate X-Men lost a lot after Mark Millar stopped writing and handed the reigns over to Brian Vaughan. Ultimate Spider Man has been consistently good. The Ultimates would be great if it was actually on time. Ultimate Fantastic Four is ok -- typical post-Transmet Warren Ellis -- mediocre, self-conscious plot occasionally redeemed by flashes of cool insight and hip technology observations. I agree that Morrison's work on New X-Men was excellent (as is Joss Whedon's work on Astonishing X-Men) but that's still an example of an author who is working with an established continuity and is just choosing to ignore inconvenient parts of it; rather than starting from a completely blank slate.

Overall, though, I also agree with others who've said that the industry really doesn't need more superhero books. The blood has been squeezed from that stone, thanks. The dual trends of mining comics for new movies, and mining manga for new comics are disturbing facets of an Ouroboros-like laziness in repackaging and reworking -- leaning on the symbolic value of iconic, yet ultimately derivative, content instead of creating new stories and using fresh ideas that don't necessarily involve men wearing their underwear on the outside.
posted by bl1nk at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2005

Wait ...

They're hiring Frank Miller to simplify Batman? Hell, after the horrible implosion of plot and art that occured over the course of DKII, why are they even letting him near the franchise again? If they want to simplify things, wouldn't they just call John Byrne?

(Though I guess he had his shot at DC Retconning already ...)

On Preview: Wolf ... you're a beautiful human being, but Raynor's ring will never shine so brightly as Jordan's.
posted by grabbingsand at 4:13 PM on January 5, 2005

Yes well, we'll just see what Batman has to say about the New! Hal! Jordan! I'll be on his side. *cries* It's been ten years and still people can't be bothered to spell Kyle's name right :-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:22 PM on January 5, 2005

Ugh. Totally off topic, but someone linked me earlier today to that NY Times review of Alias.
Let's be honest. Many of us don't like comic books and have feigned interest in their jumpy bif-bam fighting scenes and the way they redeem loser guys, only to impress and minister to those loser guys.
To which I had to utter "Fuck you" at my monitor.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:00 PM on January 5, 2005

The trailer I've seen for Bats Begins didn't look like it was based in any part on Batman Year One.

Having already read the script (spoiler temptation for you), I can say that it borrows heavily from it. The thing is, the movies are "rebooting" the Batman movie genre. DC has a pretty piss-poor record of keeping the comics and the movies in line with each other (Lois and Clark's wedding, anyone?).

In my NSHO, DC already blew their chance after Crisis on Inifinte Earths. They completely destroyed a bunch of old storylines in order to make things tidy and neat, then found that the fans didn't really like what they replaced it with, and, tempted by the inflated market in the early 90's, decided to kill Superman (no, this time for real!). Essentially, they screwed everything up with the four Superman heirs, and have been trying various gimmicks to get the storyline back in check ever since.

Crisis was about the time that I decided I'd had enough with the super-hero comic genre (with the exception of Batman, and even he's showing his age).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:13 PM on January 5, 2005

This kind of reinvention is tiresome to anyone whose been collecting comics for a while. It's taking an old concept and attempting to put a fresh spin on it, but the problem inherent in that is that it's still an old concept. All these revamp/reset/reinventions do is complicate matters even further. Just as an example, back before DC tried this the first time with Crisis on Infinite Earths, there was just one Supergirl, who was Superman's cousin. The first Supergirl died in the Crisis miniseries, and was later replaced by some lameass shapeshifting robot in the John Byrne reset of the Superman franchise that took place over 15 years ago. Now they've complicated things further by making Supergirl some person with an abstract and vague "souls merging" origin that may or may not be related to the original Supergirl. So now we have three Supergirls instead of one. It's horrible, and these things happen precisely because of the desire to simplify matters that were simple enough for most people to understand.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2005

Ultimate Alpha Flight any good?
posted by Paddle to Sea at 5:29 PM on January 5, 2005

I'm a huge comic geek, for the past maybe 3 years, and I simply can't get into DC comics. At least some of the Marvel titles coming out are pretty good, like the Marvel Knights stuff and some of the Maxx titles. Other than "The New Frontier," DC just seems really flat and lifeless. I'll definitely check out these new ones, though.
XQUZYPHYR, I've thought for a while now that the recent Punisher comics are actually focussing on how Castle is just as much of a criminal as those he kills, by portraying him in such an insane manner. But YMMV, of course.
posted by 235w103 at 5:44 PM on January 5, 2005

Hmmm... I can't stand Superman, but Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison? Those two rocked the house with N Ξ W X M Ξ N - (polygrahpic? ambigraphic? peri-somethingorother?) - but that might JUST be worth a look, even though Supes is rather staid, boring and invulnerable compared to the non-homogenous funk of those wacky mutants.

I wonder, what load of dysfunction can Morrison introduce into the life of Clark Kent?

btw, Quitely is an amazing artist, though I'm not sure if he's suited to the button-up, button-down world of the Daily Planet...
posted by vhsiv at 5:58 PM on January 5, 2005

I was a super-hero comic lover as a kid (80s), and gave them up around issue 200 of the x-men. I just couldn't "get" them anymore. I went through phases where I'd read something that a friend leant to me, but that was it.

Then about 2 or 3 years ago (I'm not sure anymore), I ended up reading an online issue or two of The Hulk. The storyline was "return of the monster" or something and it was excellent. So I started collecting issues (and I HATED The Hulk as a kid; so boring). Anyhow, one issue led to another, and then I started looking for something else to read.

What I found was racks and racks of re-heated junk. I'd have had to sit there for hours talking to some barely sociable clerk trying to figure out what I'd even like to read. Then I'd have to find the issues that the particular storyline would start in, or where it ended, or if I'd have to wait months for the next part, etc...

And then I found the pure pleasure of graphic novels (I couldn't afford them as a kid, so I ignored them). No more having to sort through piles of junk. I could find genres, writers, characters, all neatly wrapped up without having to bother with all the nonsense that comes with collecting comics.

And that's when it hit me:
Comics don't suck. Collecting comics sucks.

Comics are great. People love fantasy stories of powerful men-in-underwear. You can't tell me that people hate Spiderman or the X-Men; the simple monetary success of the movies says otherwise.

My gut instinct (because there's no way I can back this up) is that they hate the whole bloody ancient custom of monthly issues and decade-long continuities and stories without end combined with the whole sleazy business of comic speculation.

Everytime I walk into a big-box book store, the manga section has grown. It's eating the sci-fi section for lunch. The stuff sells. It sells, not because it's hipster cool to be into anime/manga/whatever, but because it's treated like a series of books. You buy issue 1, if it's good, you buy issue 2, and so forth. Eventually, the storyline STOPS, but that doesn't mean that the first issue is out of print (if the series has been a good seller).

You don't have to dig through boxes of lovingly-bagged staple-bound paper looking for "just the right" issue so that you have the complete storyline you're interested in. You don't have to deal with "back-issue" inflation. You don't have to try and recall a decade worth of continuity in order to enjoy it. You don't have to deal with comic book guy!

You get what you want, when you want it. You read it. You like it or you hate it. Then you get some more, different (but mostly the same) stuff.

They can try to reboot the storylines and characters of american super hero comics as often as they want, but until they modernize the product delivery method, I'm betting that they are not going to attract new readers.
posted by C.Batt at 6:01 PM on January 5, 2005

Am I the only one who thinks every person Frank Quitely draws looks like they have a squashed head?
posted by emptybowl at 6:21 PM on January 5, 2005

Y'know, when I was a kid and I wanted to know the origins of my favorite characters, you know what I did?

I checked out hardbound anthologies from the library. I borrowed my Grandfather's books of Smithsonian comics. And when I could afford it, I bought reprints. Seriously-- how many times has Action Comics number one been reprinted? Plenty.

Why buy a rehashed mangled version when you can go straight to the source? Would you go see a Rolling Stones cover band if you also had the choice to go see the The Rolling Stones?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:34 PM on January 5, 2005

That being said, if these new versions turn more folks onto the magic of comics, then I'm all for it.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:35 PM on January 5, 2005

I like the fact that so many Mefi's appear knowledgeable about comics. I was a fan of World's Finest (Superman Batman teamup) as a kid, and I've bought Justice League and all the Superman books for the last couple of years now. Thing is, with today's Superman titles, you can't just pick one up and start reading without a sense of disorientation. Occasionally, the reader doesn't know exactly what is happening until the end of the story arc. I believe that creating a more accessible book is a step in the right direction.

Oh, Wolfdaddy and grabbingsand? in this order:
Alan, Kyle, (Kilowog), Hal, John, Guy
posted by boymilo at 6:52 PM on January 5, 2005

Having already read the script (spoiler temptation for you), I can say that it borrows heavily from it.

Well, cool. I'm genuinely excited. (And seriously, that's not a spoiler per se.)
posted by effwerd at 6:58 PM on January 5, 2005

I mean, Joker cripppling Batgirl ten years ago was one thing: in the last five years, DC's just gone on some sadomasochistic beating spree [lotsa spolilers warning]: Black Canary gets tortured in Birds of Prey. Huntress gets shot multiple times and Gordon's wife gets murdered at the end of No Man's Land. Bruce Wayne's girlfriend is beaten, then murdered, then the murder is framed on Wayne's female bodyguard, who gets beaten up in prison. Two of Robin's girlfriends were offed in the last story arc alone- one of whom was tortured with electric tools for an entire fucking issue- and to top it all off, Green Arrow's female sidekick is now going to contract AIDS and die.

Ewwwww. This is why I don't read comic books anymore.
posted by rushmc at 7:16 PM on January 5, 2005

C.Batt, you are wise. Collecting comics sucks rocks.

I'm looking forward to these Ultimate-ish restarts. Like boymilo, I can't pick up a Superman without being lost, if not intimidated, by all the footnotes* and backstory. The last Superman graphic novel I read was one penned, partially, by Jeph Loeb, and I picked it up based on his work on the post Year One books Dark Victory and The Last Halloween. I couldn't tell what the hell was going on. By the time Brainiac became some super-evolved, poorly computer rendered giant, I was fishing about for Ultimate Spider-man volume 6. A comic writer I enjoyed was being stifled by the weight of the character, a character that only matters to the comic collecters. So long as Supes flies, punches Luthor, and hates green glowy things, I know who and what he's about. That he punched some robot into space in the mid-80s and it came back to pretend to be him after he died? Blah. Don't care.

What keeps me in comics are the TV shows. The WB's Batman and Superman shows of the past, the current Justice League and The Batman are all great. I don't need to know what happened 50 weeks ago to understand what's happening and the fact I know a little about DC just makes them even better (Justice League Unlimited is heading Kingdom Come way). They're reinventions. They can bring in a new audience and have just enough nerd-bent to send some sly winks to the comic book folks. Yay!

I won't read continuations of long existing titles, but I pick up every Ultimates (Ultimate Spider-man: Carnage was surprisingly cool) and every post Year One collection I find.

*See Issue 332 for more! -Ed.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:28 PM on January 5, 2005

I wuv you boymilo.

I know what you mean about the misogyny thing, though, XQ. Kyle Raynoer's girlfriend stuffed in a refrigerator anyone? Can you say Identity Crisis? (which my fabulous DC Encyclopedia says massively reshaped the DCU, which is totally bogus, a minor, but beloved character dies horribly, and the motive of the killer ulitmately turned out to be "I just want my boyfriend back!")

But turning Barbara Gordon from Batgirl into Oracle was the best thing to happen to the character (and I still salivate over the idea that Dina Meyer...fuckin' DIZZ!...was cast as Oracle in the awful "Birds of Prey" TV series) and she is just way more interesting now than ever she was as Batgirl. JSA also has strong women that aren't brutalized or victimized. Hawkgirl, Power Girl, and Stargirl are all terrific. But that's about the only bright spots, hell even Wonder Woman was called a whore in JLA not too long ago. Sigh.

Oh, and MegoSteve, you forgot to mention Cir-El and the (apparently) genuine Kara Zor-El from Krypton recently introduced in the Superman/Batman series. So that's like 5 Supergirls.

John Byrne's revamp of Superman post-Crisis really fucked the DCU up. No Superboy=Legion's suffered ever since. 5 Supergirls. And Krypto's back. And Kandor. Even red Kryptonite! Fuck John Byrne. I've got a pen waiting for his thorax. He has a lot to answer for.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:33 PM on January 5, 2005

I'm sorry, but Kyle Rayner is actually the best Green Lantern ever. Hal Jordan always seemed about as interesting to me as a bucket of warm spit. Maybe it's just generational.


I'm going to take the deafening silence of non-comics-reading commenters in this thread (with a tip of the hat to the brave few who did stop in) to indicate that no, there's not a snowball's chance in hell of "normals" picking these up? Sounds about right. I'm *very* excited about Morrison & Quitely's SUPERMAN (Morrison's NEW X-MEN run is tied with his own THE INVISIBLES for my favorite comic ever), but as much as I like Miller, Jim Lee is definitely not my first choice for a quintessential Batman artist. And I really just do not like Robin, and think he's a poisoned character/concept in the wake of the last two movies and the abysmal old TV show.

Oh, and on the subject of THE ULTIMATES -- I actually really *like* that Captain America is a reactionary, right-wing asshole in that series. It seems to fit his abilities and position a lot more than having a sort of bleeding-heart liberal quality -- if he really was a liberal, he'd have quit the Government a long time ago (and yes, I know he has, but he'd've stayed away too). I feel like Thor alone makes up for Cap's more uncomfortable tendencies (and Tony Stark's quite an interesting fellow in that series, too). Don't spoil anything from vol. 2 for me, I'm waiting for the collection.
posted by logovisual at 8:00 PM on January 5, 2005

Also, I'm really disappointed that nobody noticed the title I gave this post. Flip to the back of DARK KNIGHT!
posted by logovisual at 8:02 PM on January 5, 2005

Black Canary gets tortured in Birds of Prey.

Not only gross but recycled: a "shocking" torture scene of Black Canary was a major selling point of the dreadful Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters back in the 80s if memory servers.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:22 PM on January 5, 2005

C.Batt, you sum up a lot of the reasons I prefer manga now, (also you don't have constantly changing creative teams) though quite a few of western comics such as Sandman, Bone, and Cerebus, remind me of manga in terms of length and in that they actually end, instead of some constant soap opera.

And anyone else think Morrison/Quietly doing Superman is a tremendous waste of talent? I guess it's too bad We3 didn't sell better because I'd rather see them do some more original work. Though I don't blame them for taking the money.
posted by bobo123 at 8:26 PM on January 5, 2005

Am I the only one who thinks every person Frank Quitely draws looks like they have a squashed head?

No. But I do like his delicate little lines.
posted by interrobang at 8:50 PM on January 5, 2005

Amusingly I just realized that I had torn out from a 2004 round up in the Mercury News a few paragraphs about Identity Crisis with the thought of finding it. The description was pretty positive: "Comic-book culture took another step toward literary credibility with Identity Crisis, a seven part series about the darker sides of superpowered life in the DC Comics universe..." Now I'm not at all sure.
posted by billsaysthis at 8:51 PM on January 5, 2005

Oh, Wolfdaddy and grabbingsand? in this order:
Alan, Kyle, (Kilowog), Hal, John, Guy

Okay. I will grant you Alan Scott, just as I would grant you Jay Garrick in a similar Flash ranking. You can't have the rest without the first, and Scott is consistently interesting -- even as Sentinel.

But I can't get behind Kyle, though I will admit that I dropped GL shortly after he got the ring. I've been catching up in the last few months and in anticipation of Rebirth I caught his "last" issue of the series -- loved how he handled Major Force.

Hal is just ... perhaps it is generational, but the legacy of his father and Carol Ferris and the comradery with Green Arrow and the bravery of being a test pilot feeding into his suitability for the ring ... a person that would've been a hero even without the ring.

So ... my order?
Alan, Hal, John, Kilowog, Kyle, Tomar-Re, Ch'p
(Cannot stand Guy Gardner. At all. I think it's the haircut and those damned boots.)
posted by grabbingsand at 9:05 PM on January 5, 2005

And anyone else think Morrison/Quietly doing Superman is a tremendous waste of talent?

I think it has been one of Morrison's goals to one day write Superman. Warren Ellis wrote a long essay about it which is collected in "Come In Alone."

For those who aren't comic fans that are still this far in, Morrison is considered to be the Burroughs or Cronenberg of comic books, he's wrote some incredibly fucked up stuff, but he's also wrote some of the best super hero stuff in the past 20 years.

It's depressing to read comments about how people refuse to read comics for one reason or other. It is roughly the equivanant of saying you refuse to watch television because you saw a fishing show, or watch movies because you saw "Freddie Got Fingered" once. Comics is just another story telling medium, some of it is good, some of it is bad, but it's starting to really come into its own (I say this as someone who buys several graphic novels a week, and don't really follow very many superhero titles).

Re: Character Development... Locas by Jaimie Hernadez has incredible character development. The thing is, a lot of comic character development (as in movies) will be in the images rather than the words.
posted by drezdn at 10:29 PM on January 5, 2005

I'm totally thrilled at the prospect of Morrison/Quitely anything. Their current miniseries We3 is absolutely fantastic, and VERY original. And Morrison has a way of taking on very familiar characters and coming up with fascinating interpretations of them.
posted by 88robots at 1:11 AM on January 6, 2005

Writing as someone who has been involved with comics pretty much his whole professional life, and who has a deep and abiding love for the medium (look at my username, dammit), I have this to say about this 'news' from DC:

"Same shit, different hat".

If DC really wanted to shake up the readership, maybe they should have done something really radical and started a line of books specifically NOT about superheroes. Let's face it, not only are superheroes very much past their sell-by date, movies can now do supers WAY better than comics.

Between this and the death of Will Eisner, 2005 is turning out to be a pretty depressing year for anglophone comics. Thank God for comics in the rest of the world...
posted by ninthart at 1:59 AM on January 6, 2005

1985 was a great year for comics... well, except for the Marvel Secret Wars. God, that was a turd, wasn't it? I loved Crisis On Infinite Earths. Back then I read each issue with relish and almost ached waiting a month for the next installment. When Supergirl and Flash died I thought this was it. This was as good as comics get. I was proven wrong however, in that comics could do better. Neil Gaiman's Sandman series put everything I had contemplated that comics could be to shame. Aside from Sandman however, trying to follow the post-Crisis crap that followed felt so anti-climactic to me. I quit collecting soon after that.

Somewhere between Crisis and Zero Hour, my costumed heroes of childhood stopped being mine. They became the next generation's heroes. The Silver Age of comic books was a recycling of the Golden Age, but it was my age. The age I grew up in. It wasn't a rerun to me, but now it's all reruns.

If you want to continue supporting an industry that regurgitates repeatedly digested pablum into new gaping mouths, feel free. They could be creative and refreshing, but they gotta make money so instead they just retell the same tired stories over and over. They can dress it up and repackage it all they want, but I've had my fill.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:05 AM on January 6, 2005

Let's talk about companies, not comics, because as long as we're on the topic of DC and Marvel that's what we're dealing with: corporate-owned characters who serve the interests of the corporation, regardless of who the corporation hires to pull the strings or write the plot.

With sales of individual comics dropping below 150,000 for a DC or Marvel title, the industry is clearly in crisis. Comics don't grow on trees; someone has to write, edit, draw, ink and colour them, and that's five different jobs. Given that a single-issue script for one of the big two is going to clear the author somewhere in the range $1000-$5000 (depending who they are and how hard they haggle), and the drawing and other production tasks are more time consuming, we may postulate that the production costs for a single issue are somewhere in the range $10,000-$20,000 before it goes anywhere near a printing press. When we take off the wholesaler and retail markups, the publisher probably makes under 30% of the cover price, and from a $3 comic that's only going to gross $450K that's not enough to run a corporation.

A 12-month series on this basis is likely to reap under $1M for the company, and run to production costs of $0.1-0.2M.

(Figures very approximate but pulled out of my ass with reference to other sectors of the publishing industry and personal discussions with comics writers mentioned by name earlier in this thread. Anyone with better figures, please correct me.)

Thus, for the past decade, both Marvel and DC have been pursuing a very simple strategy: to turn themselves into intellectual property companies. License merchandise. License movies. License TV shows. License the hell out of their superhero properties and make an order of magnitude, two orders of magnitude more than they can off the comics. In fact, the comics are slowly sinking to the level of viral marketing campaigns in support of the movie effort. Which is not necessarily a bad thing for the comics (can anyone say that the Star Trek movie franchise has been bad for the Star Trek novel series?) but isn't necessarily going to give the fans what they want.

So if you want to extrapolate what comics are going to look like over the next couple of years, I'd look to the IP issues. More and more, the comics are going to end up being seen as marketing support tools for the (much more lucrative) movies, while second-line superheroes are going to be rolled out by Hollywood directors with ever-more powerful special effects and plots honed to surpassing dullness by ever-larger focus group audiences.
posted by cstross at 4:49 AM on January 6, 2005

I never understood the Batman movie/comic franchise...casting director: "so Bruce Wayne is tall, built, sauve and devilishly handsome...I know the perfect person! Michael Keaton is short with curly hair but watch him light up the screen!" ugh. I dont see why Frank Miller is rewriting batman when he already wrote The Greatest Story of Batman Ever (The Dark Knight Returns). If people want to see what Batman is all about, this is all you need to read. I am glad Sin City is finally getting some when will we see other FM works turned into the movies that would be so badass (unless they pull a Judge Dredd and ruin it) like Give Me Liberty and Hard Boiled (of which a lithograph hangs above me signed by FM and Geof Darrow).

Personally, the comics industry is dead to me (having worked in a comic store all through HS in the early 90's witnessing the price-wars take an industry where a kid could walk into a comic store with $20 and walk out with a stack of books - to that same kid walking in with $20 and walking out with 4 books if he was lucky) as previously seen in this thread. I'll stick to re-reading The Watchmen and the tons of Cerebus TPBs.
posted by gren at 5:24 AM on January 6, 2005

just as I would grant you Jay Garrick in a similar Flash ranking

While I love Jay, Wally West OWNS the mantle of the Flash. Barry who?

/contentious geek

Also, I had quit reading comic books sometime shortly after Crisis. Read them again briefly during Death of Superman/Emerald Twilight/Zero Hour just to see how bad things could get. Devoured both Marvels and Kingdom Come. Then I found Gaiman and The Sandman and have been in love with comics all over again since. At 40!

Justice League Unlimited is heading Kingdom Come way

Really? I loved the 2nd season of Justice League--some of the finest super-heroics ever to see page or screen--but gave up on JLU when the League got kid-ified at around the 3rd episode. It seemed a dumbing down. What's happening that makes you say it's headed in a Kingdom Come direction?
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:54 AM on January 6, 2005

Some of the themes that were background to KC are starting to crop up in JLU. We're starting to see growing distrust of superheroes (cloning Supergirl by the gov't, etc) on the part of Joe Average. Tougher villains are calling for more force. Also, Superman's been having problems with the new crop of heroes.

I don't think KC will be part of the show's canon, but it's only a matter of time, I think, before a Kingdom Come miniseries. These are the same guys who did a Batman episode based on Dark Knight Returns a few years back, so coupled with Cartoon Network's increased funding, partnering with the WB, and a strong DVD market, it's totally feasible to see an Adult Swim Kingdom Come series.

But hey, at the very least they have Warren Ellis and a few other comicbook writers penning scripts, so the show's getting better (the recent return of Grundy was pretty good).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:59 AM on January 6, 2005

Good points made by C. Batt and cstross here.

I'm just starting to read comics again, but I don't see anything in the DC/Marvel superhero genre that doesn't seem like more work than it's worth, and that's not an inherently degraded product. There's just something unsavoury about how ailing and long in the tooth the characters are, given a reset or no. We seem to be in an Age of the Writer right now, and it's sad to see clearly very creative people strapped to old characters who have so much baggage that they should all be completely insane or catatonic, or here's a thought, dead of old age. It's probably the best way for them to earn a living, but it's a shame nonetheless.

Look, I'm a big ole geek, but I think it's time to let the superhero comic paradigm die. Having 400 different people tell Batman's story over 50 years doesn't build him as a character, it breaks him down and makes him into 400 different people or a big fat nothing, depending on how you look at it. The way superhero comics function is truly bizarre if you start looking at it. It's counter-intuitive and broken.
posted by picea at 7:01 AM on January 6, 2005

I dunno, I think there's still some life left in superheroes. If DC and Marvel let more authors play with their established characters in a way similar to Astro City or The Watchmen, things could get pretty interesting. The Astro City story of a day off for The Samaritan (aka Supes) and Lady Victory (aka Wonder Woman) so they can have a date was great. I'd like it even more if it was actually with Supes and Wonder Woman.

I like the day-to-day reality of superhero life. Not the gritty realism stuff, but stories that remind us of the humans behind the masks. What happens when Batman needs to use the restroom while on patrol?

There's also some reinvention left. Gaiman's 1602 is really, really cool. I'd like to see more like that (Civil War Batman, Roman Empire Superman, Wonder Woman in the Crusades).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:05 AM on January 6, 2005

picea, the way to look at superhero comics (especially DC's big 2) isn't so much as ongoing 50-year stories told by 400 people. You need to think of them as mythical archetypes that receive 400 different takes over time. Most of those takes will be shitty; but some will be pretty fascinating. All of them will reflect something about the time in which they were created (in the 60s, it was important for Bat Man to have a lot of sci fi elements and spend time in space; in the early 90s, it was important for Superman to have a mullet).

If that's not your cup of tea, well, no harm, no foul. But I think that's the way to approach it.
posted by COBRA! at 8:11 AM on January 6, 2005

But robocop is bleeding, wouldn't it be nice to see a lot more newer characters too? From an IP perspective, wouldn't it make sense to try to develop new characters. Granted, it's hard to get attention for a new series, but if it takes off, that's another character you can make movies for.

I get frustrated sometimes when the good comic writers who have original ideas take on the characters that have been around forever. From a writer's perspective, I can understand why they do it, but while I enjoyed Morrison's X-Men, I'd much rather read his work with his own characters.
posted by drezdn at 8:21 AM on January 6, 2005

Sure, it would be nice to have new heroes. The problem, I think, is with the industry, though, where you need to be a Big Name to get a series/universe off the ground without needing to introduce them through an established universe ("Thanks, Laserarm! Good luck fighting crime back in Texas," says Spider-man to the ex-football player cyborg crimefighter.) which leads to clutter the likes of which only blowing up universes can purge.

Spinning off new heroes and groups form existing comics is an old tradition, but I don't think it's a healthy one any more. Currently the push is for reinvention and restarting, which is fine by me as I want to avoid the learning curve needed to feel like I know what's going on. The good writers are writing for these reinventions because 1) they're good money 2) they get a new audience that will perhaps follow them to other projects and 3) they're doing the equivilent of playing on stage with their favorite band by writing the characters that they grew up with. This can only last so long, though, and there will be a backlash a'coming eventually.

I would love series that are of limited scope from the get-go. (There will be 16 issues of Laserarm and nothing more!) This would help fight clutter, allow for new heroes and authors, and generally help the quality of comics in general (no more slavish devotion to crap like the whole Clone Saga). But I don't think any publisher would want to go through the trouble of developing and promoting a product with such a limited run. Imagine if normal book publishing houses worked the same way! "Gee, Mr.Martel, this Life of Pi is great. What do you have planned for Pi in the next series? Can the tiger return as a robot?"

Woo, longer than I thought.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:39 AM on January 6, 2005

What tainted the comic industry was the limited edition gold embossed -never-to-be-opened-editions. This had nothing to do with what makes a comic special or ultimately desirable: good stories about great characters drawn very well. Comic companies wanted "in" on part of the collecting profit and decided to trade the former for the latter. I'm surprised that any self respecting comic enthusiast EVER came back to comics (metafilter-ites included).

I would say collecting is not a problem. Have you ever tried to follow your favorite comic book from what you can find on the 7-11 newsstand? haha Without collecting there would be no comic book shops, and those enticing imported comics would be only found in the bathroom of the sushi restaurant.
posted by xtian at 9:15 AM on January 6, 2005

It does come down to business interests, I realise that's the sad truth of it. And I was thinking along the lines of Drezdn, wishing there'd be more new superheroes, if there had to be any at all (though they'd probably fall into the neverending story trap of their superpeers).

If the movies and tv shows that are based on the comics are the main source of cash inflow for DC and Marvel, then they should be able to play pretty loose with the comics. They should be wanting new ideas, because 800 issues of Spiderman is just going to give them... a movie about Spiderman. Look at Hellboy for instance. Hellboy hasn't been around that long, and it gets a movie. Look at Elektra and Blade, two Marvel properties which (as far as I know) are fairly minor when viewed from the comic perspective, but Elektra's coming out soon as a movie and Blade's third film is out now. A movie only requires one idea. Blade didn't need 800 comics about him and 14 titles, and yet he's outdone The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and 99% of all the other classic bigshots of the Marvel universe in revenue production.

I'm not trying to say Blade is great cinema here. I'm saying that not only can Marvel and DC afford to encourage New Ideas, but that it would end up helping them. Maybe sacrifice that new, superfluous X-Title on the drawing board and instead give some creative dynamo of a writer a chance to make you more money with a potential film or cartoon. Look at the bigger picture. Do something new to entice the Bryan Singers, Sam Raimis and Ang Lees before you're forced to start using cheap directors making crappy movies about Speedball or Rocket Racer or some equally horrid character.
posted by picea at 9:18 AM on January 6, 2005

Long running series are only there to provide continuity for the "average" consumer. I just wrote that and I don't know what an average consumer of comics is supposed to be.

picea, I hope you're not suggesting that Elektra is some "...horrid character". Let me impress and minister to all you loser guys, that Elektra is "cool", man. :P
posted by xtian at 10:06 AM on January 6, 2005

Everyone listen to cstross. Your numbers are right on, Charlie, bravo and thanks.

DC and Marvel are indeed "rehashing machines." I read the FPP and my reaction was YAWWWWN, somebody's bottom line needs boosting. Once they produce these "new" comics, they should just give 'em out to kids for free, like a crack dealer; they're doing the same thing, trying to build a new generation of readers.

Too bad most of the people who'll buy these are the same people who have been buying superhero comics for the last 20 years...

The 2004 San Diego Comic Con should have been called the Movie Con. All us indies were having trouble pulling people into our booths to sell them comics, because everyone was running to see the Star Wars booth or to get some movie star's autograph or something. Kinda puts it in our faces where comics are really at - as you say, Charlie, we are the "idea farm" for the big-money entertainment industry.

I love comics and draw them (and sometimes get paid even, woo!), but I'm pretty cynical about the non-indie comics biz. So much great stuff out there, but such a tiny audience.

I'm glad DC picked up and reprinted ElfQuest though - I got a great royalty check in 2004, for stuff I drew in 1999! Kickass! :D

PS Elektra is an excellent character... in the comics. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 10:38 AM on January 6, 2005

Metafilter: clutter the likes of which only blowing up universes can purge
posted by Sparx at 1:51 PM on January 6, 2005

Sniff. That's my first tagline, Sparx. Thanks.

I promised myself I wouldn't cry...
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:14 PM on January 6, 2005

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