Homages Aren’t Tributes [McDuffie & DC Comics]

March 16th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Yesterday, I posted about the upcoming Static Shock Special and Tommy Lee Edwards’s statement that DC wasn’t donating any of the proceeds to Dwayne McDuffie’s estate or a charity. Around the same time I posted, I asked a friend to hit up DC for a statement. I got that statement today, and, boiled down, Static Shock Special is going to be a comic that contains an homage to McDuffie’s career, but is not, in fact, a tribute book. Here’s the solicit:

A special one-shot paying homage to Dwayne McDuffie and the world of Milestone Media, with tribute material from Milestone co-founder Denys Cowan and other Milestone alumni.
One-shot • No ads • On sale JUNE 1 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

My reaction to Edwards’s tweet was resignation and anger. Industry rule #4080: “record company people are shady.” It applies to comics, too. Comics have a history of screwing over their creators, whether via exploitative contracts, outright lies and theft, or something as minor as the way characters are prized over creators. DC making a for-profit book off the back of a man’s death? As far as sins go, it’s minor in comparison to what comics have already done. So it would be unsurprising. Disappointing? Sure. Infuriating? No doubt. But unsurprising all the same.

Now, the official word is that this isn’t a tribute book. It’s a book that contains an homage, and proceeds are not being donated to McDuffie’s family, estate, or any charity. Those are two different things, and I can understand the difference, but that rings hollow, doesn’t it? DC actively and purposefully screwed with McDuffie’s last comics work, and eventually fired him over it, and I feel like the least they could do is do an actual tribute book to the man and his work. It’s small solace, but it would be something. Donate the proceeds to schools in Detroit or something.

Instead, we get an homage. Milestone profits from it, to be sure, but I don’t know, man. I’m not sure how to feel about it. Static Shock 2 was supposed to be solicited in this latest round–does the special replace that? Is it just Static Shock with eight pages of added homage? There’s precedent, too. They made one for Julie Schwartz back in ’04, and I can’t find mention of the profits from that going to charity or anything. And that’s fine–they celebrated his life through the comics he helped create. DC doesn’t have to do anything.

It kinda says a lot that I could see DC dicking over McDuffie one last time, doesn’t it? Egregious editorial interference on his JLA run, scrubbing plans for a Static ongoing a year or so ago, pulling perfectly legal quotes from Milestone Forever, and hiring Rian Hughes to black up Milestone Forever with some graffiti and buildings, now this book is urban, homey, YEAH!, and all of the rest of it beat any faith in DC Comics as an entity out of me, I think. So when faced with something awful, something that someone with no heart would do, my first thought was, “I shoulda known.” How sad is that?

But homages aren’t tributes, and I guess a bit of semantics makes everything better. Milestone Media Partners still gets paid off the issue, and I assume some of that goes to McDuffie’s estate. The readers and some of his friends get one last chance to appreciate the man and his work. And sure, DC didn’t have to make an homage or a tribute. DC doesn’t have to do anything.

But I still feel grossed out. Maybe that’s unfair of me, since they didn’t do anything wrong, really. It probably is unfair, but it is what it is.

If you go to a comic shop today or tomorrow or whenever, do me a favor and pick up Xombi 1, by John Rozum and Frazer Irving. It’s the real return of Milestone, the kinda comic we should’ve gotten back when DC was sandbagging McDuffie with Ed Benes and tie-ins to comics no one likes. It’s good. That’s about as good of a testament to the man and his legacy that I can imagine. He was better than most, and he surrounded himself with equally talented people.

edit: DC sent CBR an official statement

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All I want is . . .

March 16th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I was re-listening to the fourcast from two weeks ago, marveling at my own brilliance as usual, and I heard something that brought me up short.  David was explaining the various titles that are going to be released as part of the Flashpoint storyline.  I, after being skeptical due to always hating big events, was drawn in to the idea of Flashpoint.  Not the idea itself; I still don’t know what it is and unless someone can explain it to me in one sentence I will continue to not know what it is, but to all the other titles. 

As much as I hate to admit it, seeing as I’m an angry soulless person who doesn’t want to be happy, DC was pretty much giving me exactly what I always said I wanted.  I always wanted more ‘What if’ or ‘Imaginary Tales’ or ‘Other World’ type stories.  That’s why I love Superman/Batman so much – it had license to jettison canon and just go crazy.  I like fun and funny stories.  I like brief one shots.  From the covers and the small accompanying blurbs, that’s what Flashpoint seems to consist of.  Bruce Wayne owns a casino!  Hal Jordan’s a fighter pilot!  Here!  Have a DCU Aerialists book!  Here’s Lois Lane leading some kind of resistance.

What can I say but “Awesome!” 

And what did I say but, “They’ll screw it up somehow.”  Okay, that was a sarcastic aside at the end of the podcast, just to throw in a sting, but isn’t that what most fans say?  Half the point of being a comics fan is being cynical.  And often those cynical predictions turn out to be correct.

Why?  Well, let’s start with the inherent problems of any major undertaking.  I know, it’s just a comic book, but with an integrated universe with sixty years of history and a multi-media concept that has different versions in movies, TV, dvd, online gaming, books and comics, there is no minor undertaking.  Add to that the basics of trying to juggle art, dialog, story, and the relationships of the characters in 20-22 pages, and it’s a tough struggle to make it all work.

More important, though, I think, is the expectation of the fans.  When people get in to comics, they tend to like a lot.  Everything is new.  Everything is close enough to what they want that they can get something from it.  And if they don’t?  No big deal.  Drop the book.  I certainly wasn’t in a tizzy about Green Arrow continuity when I was first reading books.  I just thought he was a guy in a funny hat.

After a bit, that changes.  People fall in love with certain stories.  They fall in love with certain characters.  And when they fall in love, they do so with that character, and that story.  As far as they’re concerned – that is how the character is.  So if it’s just a momentary trend, or an extreme look at the character, either they are going to have to re-adjust their understanding of the character, or they are going to be chasing a dream forever.  Guess what most people will pick.  Guess how that makes them feel.

Still, though, I think the main problem with a lot of comics is people deceive themselves about how they’re going to feel.  I very much include myself in that statement.  I was talking to a friend who writes, the other day, as well as a friend who draws.  They both take requests.  They almost always regret taking requests.  I’m willing to bet the requester often regrets making the request.  Because no one ever gets what they want.  We can swear up, down, and sideways that we ‘just’ want something – Black Canary and Catman in a fight, Wonder Woman and Oracle going out on the town and having fun, Batman being a great, friendly guy.  We can get down on our knees and swear on our mother’s life that that’s all we want.  We’re lying. 

Most people even believe that one simple thing is ‘all’ they want.  I know I did when all I wanted was Birds of Prey to come back.  But that wasn’t all I wanted.  I wanted a different artist, and I didn’t want Hawk and Dove involved, and I wanted it to be a fun book with people having fun, and I wanted Oracle to get to talk to Zinda a lot because they never really connected.  I had a whole huge concept for the book in my mind without even knowing it.  Don’t get me wrong, I like that Creote and Savant are involved – love it.  And they’re getting a new artist.  And I’ve come around to Hawk and Dove.  I think they’re a good addition to the team.  But I said that “all” I wanted and when it came around I complained because I meant that I wanted the book and I also wanted some other things that seemed oh so obvious to me.

(Clearly the bat symbol should be more orange. Forget this.)

That’s what my friends get all the time.  They get requests, and they fulfill them, and then they get lukewarm thank yous because the character that lived in the person’s head was nothing like the character that these people wrote or drew.  They meant Black Canary in that blue and black swimsuit outfit she wore in the original Birds of Prey.  They meant black-haired Catman from the early Green Arrow series.  They meant Batman being friendly, but not that friendly with Catwoman, doesn’t everyone know that he’s actually all about Talia?  They meant this character with short hair or that character a little more aggressive, or sure they asked for this aspect but they would never have included that one. 

The more you know a character, and like a character, the more specific that character is in your head.  You know what they’d do, and how they’d do it, and how their stories go, and how they rate compared to other characters, and that they’d never do that.  I don’t feel sorry for comics creators.  (I’m too busy envying them.)  And I don’t think that fans should button their lips when they don’t like a story.  (I certainly don’t.)  But I can’t help feeling some sympathy with people who are trying to deliver exactly what the fans want – with characters they themselves love – but can never really do it.  Because everyone knows that Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman would never be in a story like that.

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Industry Rule #4080 Strikes Again?

March 15th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Do you get to call it a tribute if you get to keep all the profits and capitalize on someone’s death?

Hey DC, I really, really, really need this to not be true.

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Continent of the Apes (or, Monkey See, Monkey Doo-doo)

March 14th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Written by SEAN RYAN
FLASH FACT! Africa belongs to him!
One-shot • On sale JUNE 15 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Seriously DC Comics: get a black friend. Male or female, it doesn’t matter, just get one. We’re easy to find. Get one and then ask him if it’s cool to have Africa ruled by a monkey. Just run it by them, real casual-like. “Hey man, what do you think about this?” If they give you the gasface or their eyebrows narrow… change your plans.

How come Africa is always the one continent that someone gets to rule ALL of? No one rules an entire continent in the real world, and Africa has dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct peoples and cultures. I get that treating it as something other than a homogeneous Dark Continent would require, I dunno, opening Wikipedia or something, and that it’s just easier to make up a country with an African sounding name. I get that you guys don’t actually care about colored folks. They’re just action figures yet to be produced, a checkbox waiting to be ticked on the path to a “diverse” universe. Your track record has proven that, and as much as I wish otherwise, I can’t really fault you for it. You’re in the business of making profit, and black people don’t sell to the pet market you’ve groomed. It is what it is. This is the world we live in.

But for really real, though: you seriously need to get a black friend.

‘Cause you’re looking real stupid right now.

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Batgirl 18 Play-by-Play

February 17th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Valentine’s Day craziness with no romance.

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A interesting Joker. Who would have thought it?

February 8th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

My eyelash fluttering crush on Paul Cornell and all his works continues in this month’s Action Comics.  In issue #897 he has done the near-impossible.  He has made the Joker interesting.  I would never have guessed that such a thing was possible.  The last person to do it was Grant Morrison, and that only lasted for a paragraph or two. 

Almost every other Joker story for the last twenty years has mixed up ‘interesting’ with ‘awful’.  The Joker did things like steal everyone’s babies and throw them around for fun.  He showed up in a story and gagged Robin before taking him on a joyride and running down Christmas shoppers.  He was the guy who shot the hero’s daughter, father, sister, school friend, or best friend.  He wasn’t made interesting; he was just given enough gore and horror to have a vague, sick, car-accident-type fascination for the readers.

This most effusive of characters, the guy who seriously can’t keep his mouth shut, never really had anything to say.  He shot someone, said something cold-blooded and with the word ‘joke’ scattered in somewhere, and then he’d laugh.  He’d be obviously killed off – killed off to the point where Superman could find no trace of him after an explosion, and always come back.  He made no sense, and without some sense to balance on, no joke can work.

Cornell takes the usual tricks and make them work.  (Or most of them.  Joker makes reference to boiling a baby, which is think is both distasteful and silly.  No one who picks up this comic thinks that The Joker is an okay guy.  He doesn’t have to prove how bad he is, and the line, “I’m frequently NOT in this box,” is a credible enough threat without any follow-up threat.) 

There’s the mystic thing that is impossible for The Joker to know/do, that he somehow does anyway.  Unlike most comics, the thing is explained, instead of just being slide because The Joker doesn’t have to make sense.  There’s the balance between sanity and craziness.  The Joker alternates between jokes meant as goading and actual explanations phrased in clever ways.  There’s the connection with Batman, hinting that one feeds off the other, without being too literal.  (At one point, Lex points out that if he killed The Joker, everyone would be happy and he’d get off free.  The Joker replies, “No.  The Bat would come after you.”)  And finally, there is unpredictable behavior.  A lot of comics about The Joker stress that, “Anything could happen,” but generally are very predictable.  The Joker kills, The Joker makes the most heart-wrenching scenes, The Joker causes pain in particularly gruesome ways, The Joker Makes Things Personal.  This happens every Joker comic and it’s never a surprise. 

If the hallmark of The Joker is the random behavior, if that marks him as truly different from Batman, then that character hasn’t really shown up in years.  He shows up here, and it’s actually interesting.  Pair it with a strong, logical character as Lex Luthor and you get the fascinating spectacle of seeing two characters look at each other, understand each other, and say, “You’re out of your mind.”  What’s more, we agree with both of them.  It’s nice.

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Batgirl #17 Play-by-Play

January 14th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Prepare to be spoiled.

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Batgirl #16 Play-by-Play

December 10th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Stephanie Brown: Fugitive.  For about a second.

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Mark Chiarello is the DC VP of Art Direction and Design

December 7th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

It is customary for people to say nice things about the people they’re promoting.  Dan Didio had this to say:

“Mark is the kind of artist, editor and collaborator who is invaluable in not only his knowledge of the craft but his ability to inspire and pull out the very best work from the creators with whom he works.  He’s a true artist’s artist.  Mark Chiarello is one of the most respected figures in the comic book industry.  From NEW FRONTIER to SOLO to WEDNESDAY COMICS, he’s spearheaded projects that helped elevate our expectations for what the art form can accomplish.”

It’s rare to see a glowing review and completely agree with it.  So many words of praise are basically strained out through gritted teeth because something is good enough and it’s not right to hang anyone out to dry.  This isn’t one of those times.  I can’t tell you about the success of projects like Solo and Batman: Black and White, although the fact that Solo isn’t around anymore is probably an indication, but artistically they’re stand-out books.

Mark Chiarello has a good history of finding artists who can do thoughtful, interesting takes on characters.  He has a history of giving these projects formats that make them little sensations within the comics community, so that everyone has an eye out for them on Wednesday.  I often notice when people are really good writers, and occasionally I notice good artists.  It’s rare that I notice excellent editors.  I think that Mark Chiarello is one of them.  He picks good people to do work.  He gives them good projects.  And he makes sure that those projects have a fighting chance in a really tough market.  This guy is great at his job.

According to the DC Source post, “This newly-created position will oversee the operations of DC’s Editorial Art Department and lead in establishing the style, visual look and graphic design across all of DC’s imprints.”  Being a story girl, I’d prefer him to go nuts on storyboarding, but any influence is a good influence.  I’ve rarely been so happy about a press release.

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When what you want will destroy what you want

November 24th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Let me start by saying, “All hail Paul Cornell.”  Between Action Comics and Knight and Squire he is rocking books set on both sides of the pond.  Each book takes an unconventional look at superhero comics.  Knight and Squire looks at a superhero team set in the English country side.  Things are incredibly civil.  The heroes and villains hang out together at a bar protected by a kind of truce magic, and both sides enjoy it.  Everyone in town knows who Knight and Squire are, but no one says anything because that would be rude.  It’s a relaxed look at an adventuring team. 

Action Comics, which chronicle’s Lex Luthor’s quest to get the black lantern ring, is definitely not relaxed.  It follows the most brilliant, driven man in the world, and that man has a chip on his shoulder.  It’s a great read because Lex Luthor achieves real grandeur in his quest.  His intelligence shines through, as does his moral code, which is a very primitive and appealing one; he has to be in control, and he won’t ever stop fighting to get control.  He won’t back down.  While it’s clear he’s not actually a good person, he has a greatness that lets you understand why people would follow him.

I just wish he’d stop killing people.

But he won’t, because he’s Lex Luthor.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the character could be spun so enough that there is a comics series about how he’s just trying to do good and the conflict with Superman is a grudge match fueled by unfortunate misunderstandings.  It’s just that stringing those misunderstandings together will result in making this character – the embodiment of strength of will – look ineffectual, and Superman – the embodiment of kindness – look petty.

I mean, I’ll still buy it.  For crying out loud, I’m still checking out Green Arrow solicits trying to see some sign that they’ll bring Conner and Mia and Dinah and even Lian and Roy back.  I buy comics long after they make me miserable.  Pretty much every fan does.  It’s just that sometimes we’re the cause of our own misery.

Deadpool started small and climbed up to multiple titles per month.  People noticed a quality drop and didn’t like it.  So Marvel started a poll to cut a Deadpool title and people didn’t like that either.

Batman was the lone vigilante in the night.  Unwavering and infallible, he was a solitary soldier.  But people liked that solitary soldier, and so he was put on team, in charge of teams, as an adversary or backer to teams.  His world was crowded with followers and sidekicks and lovers and old friends, because people wanted to see more of him.  And through it all, the writers struggled for that same, solitary, infallible persona.  Eventually it got ridiculous, and it’s a good thing that Grant Morrison is ushering a Batman who embraces the group dynamic, because that “I am the night” thing wasn’t cutting it any more.

Comic mentality is often junkie mentality.  People want more, faster, more intense.  And then when they get a steady stream of stories artificially twisted around a marketable concept instead of one or two new takes, it’s never as satisfying as it should be.  Everyone ends up frustrated.  Fans because they aren’t getting what they want, and creators because they’re giving people exactly what they always said they wanted.

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.

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