September 23rd, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

So once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a book called Green Lantern: Secret Origin, which retold Hal Jordan’s origin story.  Since Hal Jordan’s origin story is not long or complicated (test pilot.  got ring from alien.  might as well say ‘a wizard did it’.) and is probably the best known of any Green Lantern origin, it recounted this story for reasons known only to itself, but it was a pleasant enough book, with good art and clear story-telling.

Towards the end of the first issue, it threw in the following scene:

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What is a cliffhanger.

August 25th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

A little while ago, I posted an entry about my decision to temporarily drop the Birds of Prey comic, due to a cliffhanger plot element.  Last month, after an epic separation of one issue, I jumped right back on board, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next issue due to a different cliffhanger.  At scans_daily, and in conversations with other comics people, I noticed that many people felt the same.

Tastes differ, and what makes me sit up and take notice of a comic is going to make another person throw it across the room.  But the conversations got me thinking about how cliffhangers work, and what separates the good from the bad.

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Is a Cry for Justice Fix on the Way?

May 3rd, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

For the last few years, DC has had a ‘Sunday Conversation’ panel at the end of Wonder-Con.  Although by that time I’m usually fishing around in my back for snacks I might have forgotten about last week and stealing extra paper towels from the bathrooms to use as tissues due to the first ugly stirrings of that year’s Con Crud, I always go. 

Basically, it’s a random assortment of DC people to come by and talk about comics.  No announcements.  No selling anything.  They just sit around and talk about the old comic book stores they used to haunt, what parts of comics they love, and some banter with the audience.  It’s just yakking about comics, which is why most of us go to cons in the first place.

This year, however, I heard JT Krul talk about fan involvement, and how they try to work out the best stories.  He mentioned that at a previous con, Dan Didio had come to him and told him that the Cry for Justice story reaction really wasn’t what they had wanted, and that they had worked for five hours on how to respond, story-wise.

As someone who has grown out of her juvenile, “They all just sit around, stroking white cats and laughing and figuring out how to piss off the fans,” phase, but is still plenty juvenile enough to throw tantrums about storylines, especially that one, the remark caught my attention.

I know that comics creators want to write a good story, and also a popular story.  Although I’ve seen gallows humor from people who had made some unpopular calls, everyone wants their work, and their vision, to be enjoyed by everyone.  I also no that they never get that.  There is no story so safe, so brilliant, and so popular that it doesn’t have a few people frothing at the mouth.

While Cry for Justice continuity had more than its share of detractors, I’ve seen at least some support for it almost everywhere.  I wonder, what is it that makes creators decide to ‘work’ on a story they’ve already planned?  It can’t be just fan reaction.  Spend the entire day measuring that, and you won’t get anything else done.  Trust me. 

Is it the overall scale of the reaction, or the vehemence?  Is it how long it’s sustained?  Or whether stop the usual tongue baths that they give out at conventions and start complaining when they meet creators face-to-face?  Is it the way people point the finger of blame at different people, or is it whether or not they use that old, “I’m not buying DC/Marvel/Boom/comics anymore!” 

. . . Oh, let’s face it.  If I knew, there’s no way that I’d use that knowledge wisely.

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Death to Canon

April 28th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

A large part of the appeal of superheroes is the ongoing narrative. Like soap operas, wrestling, and movie franchises, people like to drop in and see what’s going on with a character. While there are Elseworlds, What Ifs, dreams, alternate universes, and house shows, there’s a clear series of stories that are “real.” You can trace the biography of Clark Kent from 1938 to 2010, and buy books that tell that story from the beginning. Regular reinventions re-tell his origin, but with rotary phones replaced with touchtone phones, and then newspapers replaced by the internet, and then the internet replaced by newspapers again.

This has expanded from a biography into a mythology. It’s not enough to have Clark Kent from ’39 to ’10. You need to know Clark Kent’s place in the DC Universe, and how he relates to thousands of other characters. There is a narrative, whether on a small scale or a macro scale, that you can follow from A-Z. Superman died [mumble] years ago and this is how it affected Blue Beetle. Peter Parker fought Norman Osborn in college, and here is how that affects the Marvel Universe. Stories that do not fit into that narrative are either handwaved away in favor of the new interpretation of the character or deprecated and consigned to the realm of “imaginary stories.”

The idea of “real” stories is one that Marvel and DC both have wholly embraced. It is the stuff that runs in the veins of big events, and the reason why comics fans claim that they hate events but buy them anyway. “I want to know what happens! This matters!” You want that next chapter in the ongoing story, you need to know what happens to Peter Parker in Civil War, and you want to know the effects of Secret Invasion on the greater Marvel Universe. You’re invested in the narrative.

That investment leads to the immediacy that drives the direct market. You can go to the comic shop every week and get an update on whichever universe you prefer. If you don’t have that immediacy, that lust for the periodical, you have no reason to hit a comic shop and can just order the completed stories a few months down the line and read them at your leisure. DC’s recently stated wish to push back against trade waiters and emphasize the monthly comics (a move I find, frankly, idiotic and backwards) is their latest attempt to maintain their stranglehold on that market. These are the lifers, the ones who go in, buy their comics, complain, and buy them again the next month.

Series that don’t tie into the narrative sink like rocks. Barring aberrations like Deadpool’s current status, who ride a bubble of interest until it fizzles out, anecdotal knowledge says that niche books don’t sell. Recent casualties: Blade, Blue Beetle, Captain Britain & MI-13, SWORD, and Brother Voodoo. Books like Runaways and Agents of Atlas are repeatedly relaunched, repositioned, and revamped in an attempt to keep readers. Runaways in particular was changed to tie directly into the greater Marvel Universe for its second volume.

Those books get cancelled because retailers know that readers want important stories, so they order accordingly. Who cares what happened in Runaways? Is Spider-Man even in that? And The Mighty? Who is that? Is Green Lantern ever gonna guest star? “Save ______” campaigns, barring the amazing dedication of Spider-Girl fans, rarely work. The books get resurrected, retailers order a couple extra copies at best, since the last series failed, and then we’re left right back where we started: “Save ______.”

Simple question: why? Why are the books that are “real” considered more “real” than the others? In the end, the only thing you get out of reading a “real” story is a different set of fake information about a fake character. Both results are equally fake. You think somebody who only ever watched The Dark Knight cares that Batman once fought a dude with eyeballs where his fingertips go? Or that Spider-Man getting married matters more than that time Venom drove a truck in the Spider-Man cartoon? No, because here is the truth: all stories are fake stories. Granted, there is a certain amount of pleasure in following a character’s ongoing adventures, but let’s be real: all stories are fake stories. Being part of a string of fake stories doesn’t make it any more real than the other fake story.

So, why is Amazing Spider-Man more real than Spider-Man Noir? Easy: Marvel says so. Or DC says so. Or whoever. They have a vested interest in keeping their captive audience, for lack of a better phrase, so they maintain something approaching a canon, a group of stories that are “real.” Those other stories, Elseworlds and What Ifs and whatever, are fake, and you don’t need them to know what’s going on. If you buy them, that’s great, but look–Siege is what you need. Buy Green Lantern because it’s important.

My least favorite question in comics is “Is this in continuity?” That’s a frustrating question, especially when recommending a book to someone. There is the implication that stories that are in continuity matter more than ones that don’t, when that is undeniably false. I read Spider-Man comics for a few years without ever picking up Amazing Spider-Man.

Nowadays, I think the thrice-weekly Amazing Spider-Man is a great book, one of the most consistently good cape books on the stands. It has had its low points, its dips in quality, but the overall package is good. Last January, it was moving about sixty thousand units.

Spider-Man Noir is honestly one of my favorite Spider-Man stories. The writing was on point, the art was excellent, and it all came together very well. As far as Spidey stories go, it hits all the notes to make it a classic. It shipped thirty-one thousand copies.

Why the discrepancy? One is real, the other is not.

The problem with this system is that quality does not matter. Avengers Disassembled and Ultimatum were deck-clearing exercises. Everyone hated Spider-Man: One More Day, but it sold 150k. Identity Crisis was a terrible mystery and Blackest Night ended when a ghost popped up in the last issue and told everyone how to beat the bad guy. But, since these books are important, they sold gangbusters. Add a logo or a banner to a low-selling comic, script a tie-in to the important event, and watch the sales jump while people see what’s going on with the greater continuity. And then watch them fall once the continuity cop stuff is over.

Death to canon.

I hate the way it’s used in comics. Rather than having stories that matter, treat every story like it matters, Elseworlds or no. You can still do the ground-shaking status quo events, you can do sequels, and you can do long-running series. In fact, the way Marvel collects its events already does this. If you go to the store to buy Annihilation, you have Annihilation Book One, Annihilation Book Two, and Annihilation Book Three. They contain several stories from a variety of writers, but all tell the story of the Annihilation Wave. House of M has been collected into several softcovers. And in the bookstore, these books do not have any primacy over Spider-Man Noir or Agents of Atlas.

What’s important is the story and the creators. Not the canon, not the format, not the wrapper, not the company that made it. The story and the people who created it are the only ones that matter in this equation. By removing that fixation on the canon from the situation, comics fans can find themselves dozens of new books that are just as good, and sometimes better, than the canon-centric titles they buy in droves and talk about online.

We get the comics industry we deserve. By focusing only on the Universes, you miss the good stuff. I shifted my perception and found a wealth of books I would’ve otherwise ignored that rocked my socks off. I’m a firm believer in liking what you like, but at the same time, if I ruled the world? Comics would be a whole lot different than they are now. Fake stories are fake stories, no matter what anyone says. Once I started treating them like that, I started liking comics a whole lot more than I did already.

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Marvel: The Expanding Universe Wall Chart (& Contest!)

September 22nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

MarvelFolderSuperhero comics encourage obsessiveness. I know you know it. Don’t pretend that it doesn’t. Paying attention to continuity, untangling the quagmire of a character’s past, and following all of the news and trivia of a company is something we’ve gotten pretty good mileage of here on 4l!, even.

And I mean, I make fun of it all the time, but it’s also pretty interesting. It’s kind of like solving a puzzle. A puzzle with several dozen pieces that all have the same shape, so putting it together is an event. The companies even encourage this with their crossovers and events.

Rizzoli USA, the folks who published Louise Simonson’s DC Comics Covergirls (a book I’ve wanted to read forever but haven’t gotten my hands on) sent over something pretty interesting last week. Marvel: The Expanding Universe Wall Chart is pretty much the perfect thing for a new reader or an old reader looking to pick up some new tricks. First, check out the size of the thing:


That’s twelve feet long by three feet tall. It’s enormous. Essentially, the Marvel Wall Chart is an expanding poster book, accordian style. As you pull it open, and it keeps opening and opening, it reveals more and more Marvel characters, all of which are sorted into “families.” The design emulates an atom, the thing that is at the heart of so many Marvel origins, and each atom features one major character as its nucleus. The Torch anchors the Golden Age and pre-Marvel characters, Spider-Man is at the center of his family, the FF take care of many other heroes and cosmic Marvel, the X-Men revolve around Professor X, and Dr Strange takes care of the magical characters.

Now, that’s all well and good, but images only go so far, right? On the flipside of the chart is a continuity wonk’s dream: pages and pages of info on your favorite characters. They’re sorted by theme, rather than character, so you can see things about teams, kid heroes, origins, names, and so on. There’s even a bit on marriages. I uploaded a flickr set with a few G1 shots of them so that you can see what I mean.

It’s all pretty neat, to be honest. It’s a little tongue in cheek (Hellcat and Hellstorm’s marriage contains the blurb “presumably this ceremony was not held in a church”), and Patsy Walker gets a lot of love, surprisingly. I like it.

Now, here’s the thing that should interest you. I’ve got an extra one of these, new in box/mint condition/still in the wrapper, which means that it’s contest slash giveaway time. Here’s the details:

1. Share your favorite bit of Marvel or DC trivia or continuity porn down in the comments
2. Leave a valid email address in the email box
3. In the name box, put your real name. First name, last name, both names, whichever you prefer. Just no pseudonyms.
4. You have until midnight, this Friday, to enter. I’ll put a reminder post up on Thursday in case you forget to enter.
5. Also, this is open only to US residents. If you want to share trivia, and you’re from Uzbekistan or somewhere, you can, but please mark that down in your comment.
5. Wait until Monday, when I announce the winner and ship them a big fat chunk of Marvel history.

Sound good? Let’s get it in. Show me what you got.

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Brevoort on Selling Comics

September 3rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

From Tom Brevoort’sBlah Blah Blog:

Q: Why do booked with international lead characters seem to struggle in the US market, like Captain Britain & MI:13 and Alpha Flight? yes, i know that Wolverine’s Canadian, but APART from him.

A: I don’t know that it’s any one thing, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that it’s all part of the same phenomenon that makes it more difficult to sell series with female leads, or African-American leads, or leads of any other particular cultural bent. Because we’re an American company whose primary distribution is centered around America, the great majority of our existing audience seems to be white American males. So while within that demographic you’ll find people who are interested in a wide assortment of characters of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, whenever your leads are white American males, you’ve got a better chance of reaching more people overall. That’s something that continues to change as the audience for what we do gets larger and more diverse-but even within that diversity, it’s probably going to be easier to make a success of a book with a female or African-American lead before it is a British or Canadian-centric character.

He’s right.

I mean, I know what I want out of comics, but that’s often diametrically opposed to what Don DC or Maria Marvel wants. What I want? Young Liars, Unknown Soldier, all that stuff that’s great, that’s head and shoulders above the pablum? That doesn’t sell. It’ll move 20k out of the gate, then drop to below 10 and be cancelled within a year and a half. Young Liars is gone now, Unknown Soldier is probably on the way out, unless it’s trades do gangbusters.

In short, we, as in the comics reading community, get the comics industry that we deserve. Our buying habits decide the output of the companies. And if people only want stories starring classic characters, stories that “matter” and pay homage to the knotted and twisted chains of continuity… you’re only gonna get stories starring white dudes, with the occasional green chick or redhead playing the background.

Case in point: Hawkeye vs Luke Cage. One has been put into a leadership role on the team, gained the respect of Captain America, and been in New Avengers from the beginning. The other has returned to life after a controversial death, and enjoyed a new lease on life and the return of his long-dead wife.

The last Luke Cage miniseries, barring the recent release of Luke Cage Noir, was the Azzarello/Corben miniseries at the top of the decade. Hawkeye’s latest was New Avengers: Reunion, telling the story of his reconnection with Mockingbird. That was this year.

I’m not judging here, this is value-neutral. But, if you’re going to go, “Our best-selling comics tend to be about our universe and continuity. We should do more of those so we can stay afloat,” you’re going to get comics starring people with several dozen years of Marvel history. All but two of those people are white, and the two are Black Panther and Falcon, who no one cares about anyway.

So if the audience wants stories that matter, you’re gonna get stories starring white dudes. It’s not even racism. It’s mathematics.

The only problem is that it’s also a self-defeating cycle. You aren’t going to bring in a larger audience by telling the same old stories about the same old people because, wait for it, they’ve been ignoring those stories forever. You’re gonna have to take risks, and telling stories about Barry Allen ain’t it. I applaud Marvel for being willing to stick with Black Panther long enough for it to find an audience for that very reason, and I recognize that companies have to make a profit. At the same time, though, I don’t have to read books starring boring characters.

Good on Brevoort, though. He’s a stand-up guy, and it’s nice to see a dose of realism in comics.

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A Few Questions With Ian Sattler

March 20th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

During the panels of a Con, there is often a tug-of-war going on between panelists and attendees. The attendees ask question after question, trying to pull any possible information out of comics publishers, while the publishers bob and weave, trying to – all right, I’ve gotten a dodge ball metaphor in my tug-of-war metaphor, but the point is, the panelists try to keep as much information to themselves as possible.


And this year no one had to work as hard to duck the fast-flying continuity questions as Ian Sattler, the senior story editor at DC. Even at the sparsely attended Sunday Conversation panel, trying to get fans to stop asking continuity questions was like trying to pry a British Bulldog off a burglar’s ankle. Read the rest of this entry �

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Learn to Share

December 2nd, 2008 Posted by david brothers

The difference between continuity and shared universes is one of scale.

Shared universes work on a macro level. Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four live in the same city and sometimes run into each other. Daredevil hangs out with Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Spider-Man. Sometimes Ben Grimm runs a poker game with a bunch of heroes. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman consider themselves the best heroes around and sometimes get together to look at pictures of other heroes and sit in judgment of them.

Continuity, as its usually used, works on a micro level. Jean Loring did this thing in the past that led to this happening in the present. Spider-Man once fought a guy who knew a guy who was related to a guy who hates Spider-Man. Superman once had killed three guys but in the new storyline he didn’t, because they are back and angry and will Superman kill them again?

Neither of these are inherently bad. They can both ad flavor to stories. My main gripe tends to be with continuity porn, which Funnybook Babylonian Chris Eckert succintly explained as being “stories/sequences that really have no real dramatic or thematic reason for existing save for REMEMBER WHEN.”

Shared universes make for fun cameos. Sometimes Thor flies around in the background of a Spider-Man comic. Why? Well, he’s Thor, he lives in NYC, and he flies. Kapow! There’s a particularly fun issue of Spectacular Spider-Man by Paul Jenkins and Talent Caldwell where Spidey takes part in a poker game featuring the Fantastic Four, Angel, Black Cat, Dr Strange, and the Kingpin. Rather than getting bogged down in “Remember when we all fought in Infinity Gauntlet or Last Rites,” the point of the story sticks to the point of the story– a poker game. Their history is implied, rather than explained, and it works for the betterment of all involved.

The bad continuity, for me, is the kind of thing that tries to answer every quesiton ever, references things just for the sake of referencing them, or tries to solve old problems. It isn’t using the continuity to push the story forward so much as using the continuity as the story itself. Wolverine Origins was a good example, as the entire series’ reason for being was “Remember when this stuff happened to Wolverine?” X-Men Legacy is another continuity-based comic, though it’s more in the “using continuity to tell a new story” box for me.

I can’t get into the New Krypton stuff because it feels like it hinges too much on continuity, and the triangle numbering isn’t helping. Thy Kingdom Come over in JSA feels the same way. It’s slow moving, crowded with a bunch of faceless characters, and seems like it’s just there to remind you of a) Kingdom Come and b) Earth-2’s JSA.

What these stories have in common, at least for me, is that you feel like you’re missing something. There’s a story you didn’t read somewhere, or a connection you’re missing. It just doesn’t click.

While I was doing “research” for this post (asking others their opinion so I could steal their quotes and use them as my own), I realized that pinning this down isn’t as easy as black and white, good and bad. Like many other things, it comes down to quality.

I picked up Spider-Man: Round Robin: The Sidekick’s Revenge at a used bookstore. It’s Spider-Man, it’s Bagley, I bought it. It’s a shared universe book that doesn’t work. Basically, Moon Knight’s sidekick Midnight is back from the dead and he’s a villain. So, Spider-Man, Darkhawk, Moon Knight, Punisher, Nova, and probably some people I’m forgetting all team up to fight Midnight. It’s the shared universe at work, but it’s a mess in basically every way but artistically.

I know that my taste tends to run toward continuity free, or freeish, stories, rather than ones that build off something from the past, but that’s just me.

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Why Superman/Batman Is The Comic To Watch

September 17th, 2008 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

There has been plenty of criticism of Superman/Batman, most of it deserved. The comic is where kitsch goes to die a long, agonizing death. Its inhabitants often act so baffling out of character that it’s hard to believe that their names aren’t misprints. Many of the issues play fast and loose with continuity.

The most cynical part of this book is right on the cover. Whoever conceived of this book took the two most lucrative characters in the DC universe and stuck them in a book without even a proper title. No ’The Adventures of.’ No, ’Duo.’ No ’League of.’ They just put a forward slash between the names, presumably so no one will think the book’s about a mutant hybrid. As grabs for reader’s money go, that falls somewhere between having the Birds of Prey go undercover as porn stars and just gripping readers by the ankles, holding them upside down and shaking them until their wallets fall out.

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4l!tv 03: Continuity Patch Comix

August 4th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

4l!tv 03: Continuity Patch Comix from david brothers on Vimeo.

Fresh out! 4l!tv 03: Continuity Patch Comix.

This week, I talk about why we don’t really need books like Green Lantern: Rebirth, One More Day, or Infinite Crisis. It comes complete with audio/visual aids.

Artist of the Week is Esso, out of Harlem. I dug through the 2dopeboyz archive and pulled out a few treats: Paper Planes remix, Hip-hop Will Never Die w/Nas, and Get Ya Beat Killed. Add in three mixtapes, ESSOcentric v1, ESSObama, and E3: E-Day and you’ve got over fifty new songs to bump.

I’m way too fond of Anti-Backpack, too. It’s self-conscious as all get out.

Anyway, I’m still working on the sound mix. I’ve heard that the backing music is a little too loud, so I’ll work that out. I’ve also been told that I should get a green screen so that I can report live from the Daily Planet, but one thing at a time, right? I’ll fix the sound first, then some bitrate issues, and then move on from there.

You can catch my page on Vimeo. I’ll look into other distribution methods later on.

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