Neal Adams Made Me Do It…

When I posted the news article about January comics sales with Marvel doubling DC’s dollar and unit shares some people commented that this was deserved because DC was terrible and putting out lots of bad comics.  I ended up disputing this, pointing out that just because you don’t like a comic does not mean it’s bad.  This is kind of a hot button for me.

People who follow ComicSpectrum know that I’ve cooled off on DC super-heroes of late, I don’t get many at all (currently just Green Lantern Edge of Oblivion & Legend of Wonder Woman).  But people should also know that I don’t consider them to be “bad” comics, just stories that don’t appeal to me.  I also try to keep trying them to see if my opinion will turn around on them.  I buy up piles of them when I see them in sales bins at comic shop or conventions and give them a read (I did this a few months ago with a lot of Convergence comics).  I’ll also grab some new issues off the rack every month or 2 just to see if my opinion has changed at all.

This past week there were a few comics with Neal Adams variant covers that caught my eye (sold at my comic shop at normal cover price).   Adams drew some of my favorite GL/GA stories of all time, so I thought I’d pick these up and give them a try since it’s been a while since I have read either title.  Knowing full well that the cover was not an indication of the interiors, but just an image used to sell a comic, I went into the comics with as open a mind as I was able to.

I was not impressed (just an opinion, not a statement of quality).  But I learned some things.

GL48 panel

CREDIT: DC Comics

Green Lantern #49 – Somewhere along the line Hal Jordan seems to have ended up with a gauntlet full of Green Lantern rings, a penchant for wearing a long duster coat and developed a really crappy attitude.  I can guarantee that there are people who love this take on the character, some probably consider it to be the best Green Lantern they have ever read.   I am not counted among those people.  This is not even recognizable as “my” Hal Jordan.  Reading this makes me feel about the same as I felt when they had Hal go nuts, become Parallax, and kill off the GL Corps.  The motivations behind this were subsequently “fixed” by Geoff Johns but at the time, I was definitely not liking the GL comic.   I feel the same way reading this and it’s a great example about DC telling stories about their iconic heroes that I have no desire to read.  I’ll try it again after the next reboot.

GA48 panel

CREDIT: DC Comics

Green Arrow #49 – Last time I read Green Arrow, it seemed like DC was desperately trying to make the comic as similar to the TV show as they could.  That went out the window somewhere since I’ve last tried the series.  Apparently Oliver has been infected with something called ‘Lukos’ that seems to be a DCU version of lycanthropy (but not tied to phases of the moon).  He spends a good portion of this issue “wolfing out”.  Another case where in the interests of storytelling they are diverting both from the classic take on GA as well as the newer TV version.  Hopefully it’s working for some readers, but not my cup of tea.   I won’t be back any time soon.

CONCLUSION:
The Neal Adams variant covers were very successful at getting me to buy a copy of these comics.  Technically my purchases won’t affect DC’s February sales tally since those numbers were set based on what the comic shop ordered.  Whether I bought these comics or they ended up in a remainder bin, the sales at DC’s level remain the same.  But what is more telling is that I won’t be back next month to buy another issue.  They succeeded in selling me a couple of single issues based on the cover images and failed to hook me as a continuing reader.

Some people will argue that this is just fine.  DC is telling the stories they want to tell and I’m just not in the target audience.  I completely agree with this.  I don’t think DC has any obligation to create comics tailored for me as a reader.  In fact, making comics that appeal to a much younger demographic is a wise move on their part.  That said, based on the objective comic shops sales data as reported by Diamond, these books are not tearing up the sales charts.  GL #48 came in at sales position 49 for January, I think some of that is based on inertia of people who have just always bought Green Lantern.  GA #48 didn’t even place in the top 100, and Arrow has a very popular TV series.

Ultimately, whether they put out comics I personally enjoy or not, DC needs to do something to capture the hearts and minds of a wider readership with at least a decent cross-section of their titles (outside of the Batman franchise).

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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New Super-Hero #1s – Jump On or Jump Off?

All-New Marvel

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Have you though about how marketing drives super-hero comics nowadays? Every time a change happens, it seems to spark a new #1 issue.  There was an article on-line with comic retailers bemoaning the fact that comic sales were waning due to the spate of reboots & relaunches.  They say that the new #1s serve as much as a jumping OFF point for existing readers as they do as a jumping ON point for new readers.

None of this really has a bearing on the intrinsic quality of the comics.  Opinions will differ, they always do, but I am having more fun reading some of the new Marvel titles today than at any point in the past 15-20 years.  For me personally I think Marvel is putting out a lot of great books.  Other people have dropped Marvel declaring it “bad” because what is being published is not to their personal taste.  (NOTE: I’m going to concentrate on Marvel because I’ve tried a bunch of DC’s new titles and there is not much that I care for.  I won’t say that it is “bad”.  All I can say is that it’s not my cup of tea).

 

The thing is….there is a loud minority of people that drop books when any event or reboot happens.  But how indicative is this of the market in general when overall sales still seem to go up.  I have heard many people say they would not pick up and try a book until it had a #1 on the cover because they wanted to get in at the start (even though many #1 issues are just continuations of the previous series, but it tricks people with the #1 fetish into trying a series).  Maybe the sell-thru of these #1 issues is not great and comic retailers are eating a lot of these copies, but sales DO go up.  As long as slapping a #1 on the cover or doing an event results in increased sales for the publisher (and it has accomplished this pretty much every time it’s been done so far) the publishers will keep doing them.

It seems like for every 1 person who drops a series because of a reboot, they sell 2 or 3 copies to someone else…..The dark side of this is many of these sales don’t stick around for very long, decreasing every issue, which is why publishers hit the reset button and restart with a new #1 after a short run a lot of the time.

The elimination of “long time readers” as a concept is something Marvel & DC have been working on (unintentionally, it would seem) for a number of years.  Restarting series so frequently over time has pretty much eradicated the practice of being a long-time reader with the exception of a few die-hard fans.
CONSIDER: I was reading most of the main Marvel/DC books for 30 years straight and when they started rebooting them to new #1s left and right I dropped a great number of them.  I no longer had a complete run to maintain when they ended the volume I had been getting for decades and started over with a new #1.  It helped break the collector mentality that had me back every month buying every single issue just so I “had them all”.
 


Die-hard fans who keep buying their favorite series through all the relaunches are people even MORE die-hard than I was… and I bought more than 50,000 Marvel/DC comics over the course of 40+ years (one at a time off the rack, no bulk buys of long boxes).  But with frequent relaunches they have re-trained me to only buy a book when I like the current creative team/story…..which is actually a GOOD THING…for me.  I would suggest that it is possibly bad for them in that they are no longer getting an automatic sale every month from a reader who is in the habit of automatically buying every issue of Batman or Captain America or whatever month in and month out.
 

The thing is, when I was in my teens and twenties (this was the 1970s and 80s), that’s really not how people I knew read comics. They followed the hero and collected a series. Granted the creative teams were not the revolving door affairs they are today, but most people seemed to be in it for a longer haul. Someone (I include myself here) collected Captain America. Not “Cap by creator X”. Not “Cap until the next #1”. Not “Cap until they kill/depower him. Not “Cap only until they bring in some other guy as Cap”.
Cap 180
In the “olden days” BIG stuff happened and there was no need to reboot the comic to a new #1. And fans pretty much just kept reading the series they were reading in spite of, or maybe because of, the changes.  Occasionally they would even try radically new stuff.

I kept reading Captain America when Steve Rogers gave up being Captain America and adopted a new costume and name (Nomad)…no reboot to #1.

Cap 181
New guy dons the Captain America costume….no reboot to #1
Cap 183
New Captain America killed….no reboot to #1
Cap 184

Steve Rogers back as Cap…no reboot to #1….and I just kept buying it, month after month…  All without the benefit of restarting at a new #1…

 

Now almost every big change seems to come with a decompressed story, each of the story ideas shown above that took an issue or 2 to explore have been repeated now taking years to tell each story beat.  Then there is usually a reboot to a new #1 when each new story beat comes along. The effect is that sticking with a series does not seem to be normal for readers today. Readers have been trained to read a run for a short time and when the creative team changes or a story beat comes along that they are not immediately in love with, they drop the book.  Maybe they’ll come back with a subsequent change, maybe not.  But one thing is for certain, whatever the change was, it will be re-done or undone within 6 to 24 months.

 

Maybe a fickle readership is all for the best. It means publishers have to keep doing stories that EARN their readership.  On the flip side, maybe that’s why publishers are continually making big splashy changes and pandering for attention with deaths, resurrections, costume/gender swaps, and all manner of other things.  Chasing a sound-bite or some other mention in the mainstream media that they hope will draw in new readers (to replace the ones they are losing with the changes).

 

I’m not really sure if it’s good or bad for the comics industry.  Time will tell.  I do know that clearing books off my pull list when I stop ABSOLUTELY LOVING them opens up slots for me to try many new and different comics (in many cases from publishers OTHER than Marvel/DC).  How many people are just walking away from comics altogether when they get tired of Marvel/DC super-heroes?  That is what will really determine the long-term health of comics…  If the comics medium can retain fans and transition them to other types of stories when the fans burn out on super-heroes then the industry can thrive.  If it contracts, hemorrhaging readership, that will definitely not be good.

So do I jump on or jump off??   I’m mixed. Sometimes it’s a jumping on point, other times I use it as an opportunity to drop a book. Over the years I have definitely switched from collecting characters/series to collecting creators/stories.

Hopefully things will work out in a way that allows the industry to thrive.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Bob Bretall (bob@comicspectrum.com)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Bob’s Blog: Top 10 for 2015

BobTop10

We’re back on this New Year’s Eve Day 2015 with our final “Top 10” from your site owner & editor, Bob Bretall!   As with Al and Shawn’s picks, they’re not in explicit order from 1 to 10, but are 10 things I thought were outstanding from 2015. Also taking a cue from the other guys, I’m going to cheat a bit and slide in a couple of related groups of comics to extend me beyond the explicit boundary of 10, but hey, it’s my site so I can pretty much do whatever I want!

I’ll also take this opportunity to thank all the ComicSpectrum contributors who helped provide reviews and site content throughout 2015.  Special thanks to Shawn Hoklas for all his reviews and guest blogs, the site would not be the same without you, my friend!  Thanks too to Al Sparrow, I look forward to his eloquent monthly “review blasts” that I then post a bit at a time.   We also got a lot of great content from Adam Alamo and contributions from Gabe Bustamantez, Amy Okamoto, and RC Killian.

We only have 3 active reviewers at this time (myself, Shawn, and Al) so I’d love to hear from anyone who is interested in sharing their thoughts about the comics they love a lot, or maybe didn’t like quite that much.  You can e-mail me for review guideline if you’d like to become part of the ComicSpectrum “Review Crew”!

One thing I know about comics is that there is a wonderful variety being published today.  My favorites might not be the same as yours, but if you look around, you should be able to find series that you love as much as I love the ones I’m naming here.  Now, let’s get on with my Top 10 favorites!

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WalkingDead144

CREDIT: Image Comics

The Walking Dead (Image) – Long before this was a hit TV series, I was enthralled by the comic.  I first picked this up some time before issue #10 and have been with it ever since.  For a while I switched to reading this in collected editions, but writer Robert Kirkman does such a great job of ending most installments with “I need to see what happens next” moments that I decided I didn’t like waiting 6 months for the next installment and switched back to getting this in single issue format.  Walking Dead is the one comic that I will consistently read 1st as soon as I get a weekly shipment that contains an issue.  It’s the only comic that I read that trumps everything else when it’s in a big shipment of great entertainment.  Some people have drifted away saying it’s not the same as it once was.  Others say it’s JUST the same as it always was.  All I know is that I am thoroughly entertained by this series each and every issue and am loving the current storyline.  Kirkman keeps me guessing and I love that about this book, I’d never have guessed a few years ago that the status quo would be what it is today and I look forward to seeing how it changes over the next year and beyond.

Archie

CREDIT: Archie Comics

Archie Franchise Reboot (Archie) – If you would have told me a few years ago that there would be a bunch of Archie comics at the top of my favorites list I’d have said you were crazy.  I have come to love ‘Afterlife With Archie’ and ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’, both excellent series, but also both plagued by infrequent publishing schedules.  These were a bit safer for Archie because they’re both standalone titles set in their own universes.  Then they did something different (though a path previously tread by many other other publishers).  The rebooted their flagship characters with top creators and a take that feels both fresh and respectful of what has gone before.  Mark Waid and Fiona Staples created a masterwork in the opening arc of Archie.  Similarly, Chip Zdarsky was born to write Jughead.  Heck, he pretty much IS Jughead.  And Erica Henderson is doing a pretty great job illustrating the hamburger-loving hero.  I’m looking forward to the Betty and Veronica reboot in 2016 and hope Archie can maintain the momentum they gained in 2015 and accelerate it.

WomenOfMarvel

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Women of the “All-New” Marvel – Marvel is making a lot of changes on how they treat their female super-heroes.  It’s true that there is still a long way to go, both within Marvel and moreso in the industry in general, but Marvel  made some really good progress both in having female characters not only headlining series, but also doing away with the largely T&A type of costumes that were mandatory for female super-heroes of the past.  Add into that the great storytelling,  and we got some really great comics.  Ms. Marvel, by writer G. Willow Wilson, has been on my “Top 12” for over a year and stars comics first Muslim character to have a book of their own, teenage Kamala Khan a Pakastani-American.  While she practices, Islam, the book isn’t a preachy story about religion or Islam, but it definitely plays a role in a way that helps shape her character and inform the audience.  In Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur we get the story of an exceptionally bright young woman, Lunella Lafayette, who struggles with being picked on at school and shines through on the strength of her character.  The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a wonderfully fun romp through the Marvel Universe led by our charming heroine in somewhat improbable adventures that never fail to bring a smile to my face. Spider-Woman got a costume make-over in her previous series and is now pregnant.  Readers are able to watch how that affects things and I look forward to the birth of her child in 2016.  We have a new Scarlet Witch series that is my favorite take on the character yet and the most enjoyment I’ve had from a comic featuring her in over 20 years.  Jane Foster has taken on the mantle of The Mighty Thor. We have a new series starring Pasty Walker aka HellcatSpider-Gwen, is the story of a Gwen Stacey from a universe where she took on the mantle of the Spider and Peter Parker died.  Silk, stars a woman who got her powers from the same spider that bit Peter Parker. Black Widow, had a great series with Phil Noto art that concluded in 2015 and will be getting an all-new series in early 2016 (mostly because Marvel seems to get uncomfortable once a series starts to have numbers in double digits).  Captain Marvel, who starred in one of my favorite of the Secret Wars spin-off mini-series will be back in early 2016 with a new series.  The Wolverine clone formerly known as X-23 is starring in the “All-New Wolverine” which has the distinction of being the only book from the X-Men family on my pull-list.  That’s a lot of great storytelling with no cleavage baring tops or thongs in sight.  They’re heroes  who happen to be female and I’m very interested in reading their stories.

sandmanoverture6

CREDIT: DC/Vertigo

Sandman: Overture (DC/Vertigo) – Over 2 years in the making, this prequel to the award-winning Vertigo series by Neil Gaiman and artist JH Williams III completed and had its collected edition published in 2015.  I’ll point to my review of issue #6 where I go on at length about why I thought this was so wonderful, suffice to say I thought both story and art were firing on all cylinders to create a masterpiece of comics art.

jq01_cvr

CREDIT: Legendary Comics

The Infinite Adventures of Jonas Quantum (Legendary) – Jonas Quantum is the world’s smartest man.  The 1st issue opens tracking his life tracking and achievements.   “Day One.  Born. “ …and a bit later that day… “Master Speech.”  Onward and upward!  He cures death on day 12,995.  And then things get interesting…  This is by veteran comics creators Marc Guggenheim and Freddie Williams III, but may be a book many people have never even seen, since it’s from a newer, smaller Publisher.  This is not a book I see on the racks at most comic shops I go into; it’s either not being ordered at all, or the copies that are ordered are sold quickly.  If you’d like to check this out, ask your shop to order copies or you can wait for the first collected edition which is due out in May 2016.

Rebels

CREDIT: Dark Horse Comics

Rebels (Dark Horse) – Brian Wood and Andrea Mutti bring us this fascinating piece of historical fiction set in the timeframe of the Revolutionary War.  When I read the 1st issue I thought I was going to get a long form story of the Green Mountain Boys, but that story quickly ran its course and Wood moved on to another that was just as enthralling, and then another.  Not just for fans of history, this is for anyone who likes compelling and realistic character-driven storytelling.  No super-powers, costumes, or larger than life action, this series finds drama in realistic achievements of people who helped forge the country that grew into the United States of American.

Airboy

CREDIT: Image Comics

Airboy (Image) – Metafictional mini-series about James Robinson trying to figure out how he is going to handle the relaunch of Airboy. We get to see Robinson interacting with Image publisher Eric Stephenson, interacting with artist Greg Hinkle, and generally bopping around San Francisco on a completely out of control bender whilst struggling with how he’s going to go about writing the series.  Then it goes off the hook when Robinson and Hinkle find themselves in a WWII setting with Airboy, Valkyrie, Skywolf, and more!  Highly recommended if you want something that will be totally different from every other comic you read.

Rachel

CREDIT: Abstract Studio

Rachel Rising (Abstract Studio) – Rachel was murdered.  Then she rose from the dead.  Then things got interesting.  There are ties to past lives, events that happened in the town hundreds of years ago, and even, quite possibly back to Biblical times.  Containing complex characters, great dialogue, and delicately rendered art, all hallmarks of Moore’s work, Rachel is the latest tale set in the “Moore-verse”, following Strangers in Paradise and Echo.  If you like horror that relies on a general feeling of unease built on supernatural phenomenon instead of monsters and killers, this would definitely be something to keep an eye out for.

Saga

CREDIT: Image Comics

Saga (Image) – This epic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples has been at the top of my favorites list since it debuted.  It has won the Eisner award for best continuing series three times and is almost universally acclaimed by fans and critics as a favorite, so I’m not breaking any new ground by including it on my list of favorites.  It’s always at the top of my “to read” pile and the latest story-line that incorporates a time jump so we can see Hazel in kindergarten is a wonderful twist that is keeping the series fresh for me.  Well worth checking out, but as with anything no guarantees.  Though it is loved by many, there are people it just doesn’t click with.

Lazarus

CREDIT: Image Comics

Lazarus (Image) – Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s tale of a dystopian future where government and countries are gone and the world is controlled by a handful of corporate “families”.   Family members are in charge, supported by their main indentured employees, known as serfs (in a callback to the medieval).  Everyone else is “waste”.  Forever Carlyle defends her family as their enforcer and advance agent, a genetically engineered human with peak human power (not really super-human) but she can be brought back from the dead, thus her title of Lazarus.  Kind of a frightening extension of the current culture where corporations pretty much control government via influence peddling enabled by lobbyists and manipulation of the media.  Art and story blend perfectly to create a believable world once you suspend your disbelief for a few extraordinary leaps of technology and evolution of the world’s political infrastructure.  Text pages, an extremely intelligent letters page, and some cool advertisements set in the context of the world of Lazarus make this a top of the stack package for me.  But I hope it stays in the realm of sci-fi…

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So there you have it, my Top 10 favorites for 2015 with a few liberties taken to allow for some thematic extras from Marvel and Archie.  I’d like to thank all the people who have read our blog entries, comic reviews and web-sites in 2015.  If you like what we’re doing share it with a friend.  We don’t do advertising and the one thing I can guarantee is that opinions expressed are 100% genuine feelings of the reviewers.  We’re not pushing anything we don’t like as recommended and if we don’t like something, we will say so because we’re not worried about losing ad revenue for expressing an unpopular opinion.  That said, we tend to focus more on what we do like because we want to share our enthusiasm for the stuff we love!

ComicSpectrum: Sharing our love for comics since December 2012!

Bob Bretall (bob@comicspectrum.com)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Guest Blog: Shawn’s Top 10 for 2015!

ShawnTop10

We’re back with another “Top 10” from a ComicSpectrum contributor, this time from senior reviewer and cornerstone contributor to the site, Shawn Hoklas!   As with Al’s picks, they’re not in explicit order from 1 to 10, but are 10 things Shawn thought were outstanding from 2015. Check any of them out if you haven’t seen them yet.

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InvisibleRepublic

CREDIT: Image Comics

Invisible Republic (Image) – It’s hard not to write a review of Invisible Republic each month when it comes out because I just want to continually sing the praises of the creative team of Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko.  Their story is a look back on the secret history of on an empire that is so grand in scale, yet focuses on seemingly small events that have changed the course of an entire planet’s history.  Invisible Republic is the book I’d recommend to anyone, not only because it shows the potential of almost perfect comic book storytelling, but also because it’s just so accessible.  Invisible Republic is my favorite “ongoing series” of 2015.

Secret Wars

CREDIT: Marvel

Secret Wars (Marvel) – It’s tough putting this one on the Top 10 list for 2105 since delays and questionable editorial decisions like adding an additional issue have halted some of the series’ momentum, but it’s still such a successful event that gave us so many enjoyable titles like Weirdworld, Planet Hulk and more.  The main event also put the Fantastic Four at the forefront and had Marvel’s biggest baddie take center stage.  The art was gorgeous with each issue, and seeing things like Dr. Doom taking on Thanos and Black Panther leading an army of Marvel Zombies is just pure comic book fun.  Though I’m looking forward to the main series wrapping up, I enjoyed the ride immensely.

Weirdworld

CREDIT: Marvel

Weirdworld (Marvel) – Spinning out of Secret Wars, this was my favorite of all the mini series, probably my favorite part of Marvel’s line wide event.  Not only did it have jaw dropping art by Mike Del Mundo, but a fantastic story by Jason Aaron that brought back some obscure Marvel characters like Arkon, Skull the Slayer, and even more surprisingly, the Crystal Warriors!

StarWars

CREDIT: Marvel

Star Wars (Marvel) – It was tough to pick just one title from Marvel’s relaunch of the Star Wars books, so I chose the whole line as one of my favorites in 2015.  Star Wars at Marvel kicked off with a first issue by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday that sold over 1 million copies and deservedly so.  From there, Marvel editorial kept tight control over the quality of each book.  Darth Vader’s solo title is just as strong as the main book, and mini-series like Princess Leia, Lando and Chewbacca.  All had big name writers and artists to flesh out their stories.  Kudos and thanks to Marvel in handling this franchise with love and care, fans have been responding!

Justice League

CREDIT: DC Comics

Justice League (DC) – Since artist Jason Fabok came onto Justice League, this book has been at the top of my reading stack each and every week.  Fabok’s art along with the consistently strong Geoff Johns has been a wonderful pairing.  In the latter part of this year, Justice League has been a “quiet” event where we’ve seen Darkseid going up against the Anti-Monitor!  This is just one of the things I love about DC…larger than life battles where the fate of the entire Universe rides on the shoulders of DC’s most iconic characters.  Also Johns has brought back the New Gods so there’s that too :).

Multiversity

CREDIT: DC Comics

Multiversity Guidebook (DC) – The Multiversity Guidebook walked us through DC’s current multiverse.  One of the other things I love about DC Comics is their rich, compelling and admittedly complicated universe.  The Guidebook simplified all that by showing us all of the “52” Earths and who resided on each.  It hints at such possibility, and although I don’t think we’ll see the possibilities come to fruition any time soon, the worlds are all there just waiting to be explored.  This can remind fans of why DC is great.

Convergence

CREDIT: DC Comics

Convergence #8 (DC) – Another stand alone issue that ranks in my top 10, not because of the story or art, but because it accomplishes what I’ve wanted since DC launched the New 52.  Convergence number eight essentially wiped out the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline to make it so that all DC continuity exists, even everything pre-Flashpoint.  Again, DC has made the complicated even more complicated and although I somewhat hate that the Crisis never really happened since it’s one of my favorite stories of all time, I love the fact that all DC continuity “matters” again.  Now, what DC does with this remains to be seen, but we’ve gotten the return of the original Clark Kent in Lois and Clark so there’s hope for even more!

Black Science

Black Science (Image) – While it didn’t have the most consistent of schedules, Black Sciencewas one of my favorites of 2015.  It’s the Fantastic Four done right.  It’s a family that explores multiple dimensions in the hopes of eventually returning home.  Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera continue to show us strange, dangerous yet beautiful worlds all while playing with the simple concept of family.  Did the Fantastic Four movie get you down?  Read Black Science, it will pick you back up!

CREDIT: DC/Vertigo

Vertigo’s Relaunch – Much like Star Wars, it was tough to pick just one of Vertigo’s new titles coming out of the relaunch at the end of 2015.  With titles like Twilight Children, Art Ops and the Survivor’s Club, and with talents like Darwyn Cook, Mike Allred and more, I haven’t been this excited about Vertigo in years.  2016 looks to be an amazing year for Vertigo and I can’t wait to read more.  Will they be my favorite Publisher in 2016?  I think they have a good chance!

Superman AmericanAlien

Superman American Alien #1 – I’m not a fan of Superman in the New 52, but this story reminds me just why Superman is so great.  It’s a story about a young Clark Kent learning how to use his new powers and relying on his parents to help him through it.  Max Landis and artist Nick Dragotta have told one of the most memorable and touching tales about Clark’s youth I’ve ever read, and has an unforgettable moment that I wish everyone had the chance to read.  DC should give this story out on Free Comic Book Day since it’s a stand alone tale showcasing all that’s right with the most iconic of superheroes.

Shawn Hoklas (shawn@comicspectrum.com)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Guest Blog: Al’s Top 10 for 2015!

AlsTop10

The internet is full of “Best of the Year” lists, and we’re going to do the same thing here at ComicSpectrum, with a few twists.  1st: we’re not going to declare what each of us loved is absolutely THE BEST.  It is what it is, our personal favorites, worth giving a look, but every person is going to view things differently.  What one person thinks is the absolute best another might loathe.  It’s the same work of art.   My perception of it, or yours, doesn’t change what it is and we all like what we like.  2nd: We’re not going to try to put them in explicit order from 1 to 10.  We’re going to talk about 10 things we thought were pretty damned good and not worry about an exact numerical ranking.  Out of all the things we read in 2015, these are the ones that floated up to the top of our minds in this last week of the year.  So no one book or series stands above or beneath another on this list. Check any of them out if you haven’t seen them yet.

With no further ado, let’s kick off the series with manga/crowdsourcing fan, indie comic creator, and ComicSpectrum reviewer extraordinaire, Al Sparrow!

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Another Christmas has come and gone and, if you’re lucky and have good relatives, you’ve found yourself with a little jingle in your pocket in the form of some holiday cash. Now if you’re sensible, and if this were a different type of website, you could maybe invest that money in some stocks or mutual funds, but who are we kidding here? You’re a comic book fan, and this is a comic book website, so let’s talk about some of the best books that came out in 2015 – ones you might have missed – that are worthy of that extra Christmas dough burning a hole in your pocket.

I thought it might be more fun to try to pair my favorites of the year to the type of reader you might be, or more to the point, what you might be looking for in a book or series. With that in mind let’s see what stood out in the past year.

SilentVoice

CREDIT: Kodansha

For the Bullies and the Bullied: A Silent Voice (Kodansha) deals with a very hot-button topic – bullying – in a way that doesn’t make light of it, but also avoids being preachy. When a deaf girl’s bully realizes the error of his ways and wants to atone, the forgiveness he seeks may not necessarily need to come from the victim of his attacks, but from those around him, and ultimately from himself. Well drawn, well-written, and with an eye toward all the different situations that arise from bullying, this is hands-down one of the most touching series I’ve ever read.

Convegnce

CREDIT: DC Comics

For those Looking for a Bargain: By now, all those two-issue Convergence (DC Comics) tie-ins should be handily lining your local comic store’s 50-cent bin. While individual titles can be hit or miss, I found a number of these flashbacks to DC’s past to be fun excursions, particularly the return of Matrix Supergirl (teamed up with Ambush Bug), the Teen Titans, Batman and the Outsiders, Infinity Inc., and others from my comic-collecting heyday. Whatever your opinion of the Convergence series itself, or event-based comics in general, these trips back in time were fun reminders of why I loved these books in the first place.

Sculptor

CREDIT: First Second

For the Tortured Artist: When Scott McCloud makes a book, I pay attention. When Scott McCloud makes a book about the very nature of being an artist, and the lengths an artist might/must be willing to go to leave their mark on the world, I pay particular attention. The beauty of The Sculptor (First Second Publishing) is McCloud’s ability to blend realism with surrealism. His protagonists have flaws, aren’t always likable, and don’t always have the right answers or do the right things. In other words, they’re real. Put those characters in a fantasy situation where one’s soul could be exchanged for one year of uncontested brilliance, and you have an honest examination of what’s actually going on – what you don’t always see – in the creative mind. This book is another testament to McCloud’s lifelong pursuit of showing us just how amazing and powerful a medium comics can be.

TokyoESP

CREDIT: Vertical

For the Person Who Feels They’ve Read Everything Shonen Manga Can Offer: Tokyo ESP (Vertical) hits all the notes of your standard shonen (boy’s fighting) manga, but does it with an eye towards humor, the fantastic, and a wink and a nod toward most American superhero comics. That the story centers on a female protagonist who already has a pretty strong grasp of her powers is icing on the cake. Bonus – each volume of the North American release is two volumes packed into one book, so you get a lot of story packed into each volume. If you enjoy a good fighting manga, but would like something at least a tiny bit outside the standard fare, seek this book out.

CREDIT: Digital Manga

For the Person Who Wants to Invest in a Worthy Cause: Digital Manga Publishing is mainly known for printing yaoi (boys’ love) manga, but a division of the company has taken to Kickstarter to fund the reprinting of influential manga creator Osamu Tezuka’s work, most of it long out of print or never in print on this side of the Pacific. This past year, titles like Ludwig – an examination of a period in the life of Beethoven – and Alabaster – a story about crime and the nature of beauty – saw print, while other attempts failed (but with a vow by the company to try again in the future). I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of the books I’ve backed in this effort, and look forward to reading more work covering the career of one of Japan’s master artists in the coming year.

Leagueof

CREDIT: Quirk Books

For the Person Who Loves Comics but Doesn’t Want to Buy a Comic: The League of Regrettable Superheroes (Quirk Books) is a great look back at the history of comics, with an eye toward the less-than-stellar creations that populated them. Look, not everyone gets to be Batman, okay? Books like this are bound to stir up fun conversations – the inclusion of beloved spaceknight Rom is sure to cause some controversy – among comic fans of any age. Still, it’s hard to deny the fun of reading about Bozo the Iron Man, Speed Centaur, The Ferret, and numerous other also-rans who inhabit this tome.

21Draw

CREDIT: 21-Draw.com

For the Artist Who Knows There’s Always More to Learn: There are a ton of artistic instruction books out there. A good number of them showed up in the past year. None have been more useful or more valuable to me personally, or contributed to my improvement as an artist, than 21 Draw (http://www.21-draw.com) , a book of sketches from recognized masters in their fields. I keep it at my office and practice rendering the different dynamic poses in my personal sketchbook during lunch. In no time I started realizing ways to improve my own poses, and as a result, I’ve grown as an artist in a relatively short amount of time. A second book, which delves more deeply into the hows and whys of illustration, will be coming out next year. I anticipate it to be every bit as useful as 21 Draw has been. They are not cheap to obtain, but the payoff you’ll see as your skill and artwork improves is a mighty impressive dividend.

Copperhead

CREDIT: Image Comics

For the Person Who Just Won’t Accept Firefly Isn’t Coming Back: It’s not, okay? Just deal with it. Fortunately, there’s salvation in the form of Copperhead (Image). If your space-western jones hasn’t been sated since that last credit rolled on Serenity, here’s a great book that, while not part of that universe, blends that same action, humor, and all-out fun in a great book from Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski. Technically this book started in 2014, but I’m putting it on here because I’m reading it in trade collection, and there are now two out there that have built an amazingly well-thought out – if not a bit dangerous – universe to visit. However you choose to pick it up, do so. Boo’s infinitely more interesting than Jayne ever was.

Pandora

CREDIT: Seven Seas

For the Person Who Loves a Good Team-Up: When Masamune Shirow (Ghost in the Shell) teamed up with Koshi Rikudo (Excel Saga), I knew I was in for a real treat. Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn (Seven Seas) is classic Shirow, with his fantastical examinations of the ever-thinning fine line of humanity and artificial intelligence, blended with classic Rikudo, offering a blend of action, humor, and cute girls in a fast-paced, hard-hitting, and funny science fiction tale. It’s impossible for me not to like this book – these are two of my favorite if not my two absolute favorite manga creators teamed up on a series – and it’s a pretty safe bet fans of either of them will enjoy it as well.

Sunstone

CREDIT: Image Comics

For the Person Who Wants a Peek Into Another World: Like Copperhead, this is another technicality, as the first book hit in December of 2014, but since its first volume didn’t hit my doorstep until 2015, I’m counting it (Go write your own column if you want to pick nits!). Sunstone (Image) is a not-so-well kept secret among Stjepan Sejic’s DeviantArt fanbase, but it finally saw print in three trades across 2015, with more to come next year. While our sexual desires, fetishes, escapades, and feelings are generally best kept to ourselves or our bedrooms, this book takes an honest look at BSDM culture. Often educational, frequently funny, and thanks to Sejic’s artwork, always gorgeous, this book is offers an engaging look into a world you either know well, might be curious to learn more about, or would just as soon avoid. Nobody would blame you if you just wanted to look at the pretty pictures, but there’s a real story going on here. A spiritual successor to Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, perhaps?

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And there you have it. 2015 was an incredible year for great comics, both in the mainstream and off the beaten path. Whether you followed the more mainstream companies, ventured out into the back pages of your Previews catalog, embraced books from across either pond, or took a gamble on someone’s crowdsourcing campaign, you had more options as a comic reader than perhaps you’ve ever had before. And the good news is that 2016 is shaping up to offer more of the same! I wish you all happy reading in the new year! — Al

Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Social Justice Warriors vs. Positive Body Image in Comics

Spider-Woman

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

I was prompted to write this blog by a recent click-bait article on BuzzFeed that has so far garnered in excess of 1.6 million views.  Go ahead and click above if you have not seen it yet, I’ll be here when you get back.

I have numerous problems with the BuzzFeed article, mostly because it offers an incomplete and slanted view of women in today’s comics and while pointing out a problem (that is not as bad as they make it seem to be) does nothing to offer any kind of solutions.

The Images

They haul out images from the past to illustrate their point.  Can I look at images from the history of comics and find stuff to illustrate any point I’m trying to make?  Sure.  That said, look at the image of Spider-Woman that heads this blog.  On the left we have the Milo Manara image that caused a huge internet furor back in 2014.  Guess what?  Spider-Woman has been changed since then, perhaps because of that furor.  Look at the image on the right, that’s a cover of Spider-Woman from a couple of months ago.  But using the image on the right is not going to help make the point the article was trying to make.  Let do this with a few more images in the BuzzFeed article:

Wonder Woman

CREDIT: DC Comics

On the left we have a boobs & butts image from a number of years ago.  I can find any number of these images of Wonder Woman if I look for them.  But look at the image on the right by Renae de Liz from the new “Legends of Wonder Woman” series.  This is how DC is portraying Wonder Woman today.  But the image on the right doesn’t support the premise of the article, so it’s not used.

Red Sonja

Red Sonja.  OK, her costume has been a chain mail bikini for most of the past 40 years, you’d be hard pressed to find an image that isn’t kind of pander-y……  Except guess what?  In the new Red Sonja series debuting next month her costume has been changed to the look on the right above.  Better?  A matter of opinion to be sure, but things are moving in the right direction.

The Models

The BuzzFeed article makes a big deal of having “average woman” try to get into the poses of comic book women and comment on how difficult those poses are and how they make them feel.  Guess what?   You could get results much like the stuff in the article if you had average people trying to duplicate poses done by real-life yoga masters or professional athletes.

women-yoga_00386287

Image Credit: (left) wallpoper.com (right) Baltimore Sun

Heck, I can’t duplicate the poses of a yoga expert or professional athlete the same as I can’t duplicate poses they put Spider-Man or Batman into.  The women in the Buzzfeed article would be similarly challenged trying to duplicate the images above.

But I’m told, the purpose is not just to duplicate the poses but to bring light to the conversation of women being over-sexualized in these poses (in comics)”.  Fair enough, to which I will direct people to my point above that we’re seeing less of these poses in comics published today, which is why they had to go to the archives for images to use in the article.

Comics vs. Super-Hero Comics

The article talks about “stereotypical comic book poses” and reinforces the stereotype with the general public that COMIC BOOKS == SUPER-HEROES.

This is not the case.  Taking aside that even super-hero comics are (slowly) moving away from the “boobs and butts” emphasis that was more prevalent in the past, there are plenty of comics published outside of the costumed heroic genre that portray very positive and realistic images of women.  These comics don’t further the agenda of the article so they are ignored. 

CREDIT: Image Comics

We get quotes from the women in the article like Nina: “I get that comics are stylized and that’s fantasy. But why does so much of the fantasy revolve around half-naked women contorted to show off their boobs and butts?”  There are plenty that don’t Nina.  Try reading Velvet or Shutter.

CREDIT: Image Comics / Marvel Comics

Or Candace: “Man, we all look so crazy, and have such an unrealistic expectation to look incredible. This pretty much goes for men in comics too. I mean, yes, I would be ripped if I was tearing through the city skyline but would that also call for rapid boob growth and my clothes to disappear? Nah. I didn’t realize how insane the proportions were until we were actually photoshopped.”  Well, not all proportions are unrealistic and not all costumes are tiny in comics, Candace.  Try reading Lazarus or Ms. Marvel.

Summary

 The BuzzFeed article does ZERO to implement any positive change.  Don’t like over sexualized super-hero comics?  Then don’t buy the comics that use over sexualized imagery to sell comics and support ones that don’t do that. There a plenty of comics on the stands that don’t (of the 100+ titles I buy monthly there is very little of this type of thing in them).

On the plus side, the frenzied protests of the past seem to be working.  Mainstream super-hero comics have far less of this today than they did even a couple of years ago.  Moving out of the world of super-heroes, this has really not been an issue for quite a long time.  But do we need to continue to haul out that Manara image every year or so to generate clicks??

What can you do to help?  Educate people you meet on what comics are and what they are not.

  1. Comics ARE a form of entertainment that has fascinating stories to read in every genre you can think of.
  2. Comics ARE NOT just super-heroes.
  3. Women in super-hero comics ARE portrayed in positive ways, not just boobs spilling out of tiny tops and butts with tiny thongs.

Pick the comics that support the positive images.  Tell your friends about them.  Skip the ones that you don’t like, there are plenty of great comics out there to enjoy.  Move out of the world of super-heroes, you may be surprised what you can find if you look.

Bob Bretall (bob@comicspectrum.com)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Pop Culture Rules at Comikaze 2015

Comikaze 2015

Photo credit: Bob Bretall

Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo is a great show for pop culture addicts; movies, TV, web-series, cosplay, toys, and content aimed at wannabe creators ruled this past weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  Oh, and there were some comic books there too.

As has been the case in past years, the panel content was very skewed to general pop culture topics with very little specifically related to print comic books, but that makes sense as it seems to be a match for the demographic that attends the show.  Top comics sell in the tens of thousands.  Movies and TV shows are seen by more than 10x that number.  The general population enjoys things that are derived from comics far more than the source comic material itself.

Comikaze 2015 Line

Comikaze Line on Oct 31st – Photo by Bob Bretall

The big day of the show was Saturday, October 31st.  Halloween.  The show opened at 9am and there were a LOT of people lined up waiting to be let in.  Lots of people in costume, maybe a little more than average since it was Halloween.

Comikaze 2015 Loot

Bob’s loot

The big draw right off the bat seemed to be convention exclusives.  A huge line developed almost immediately at the Hot Topic and Stan Lee Collectibles booths, with people grabbing up exclusive Funko Pops.  There were also Loot Crate and Marvel Collector’s Corps booths, both selling subscriptions to their “boxes-o-stuff”.  The Marvel Collector’s Corps booth was even selling individual boxes that had shipped in past months.  I picked up a Stan Lee pop from Hot Topic, which I thought was pretty cool, though I passed on the monochromatic “platinum” version at the Stan Lee booth that was going for $25.  I only picked up a couple of other things: a sketch cover of Man-Thing by artist Lak Lim which I thought was a steal at $20 and the latest collection of the Collectors comic strip (I like this strip so much that I syndicate the strips on the ComicSpectrum site).

The main presence of comic books at Comikaze were on the show floor.  There were a number of creators signing autographs either at books, in the autograph area, or in Artist’s Alley.  There were also a decent number of vendors selling comics.  As far as panels, the panels that were related to comics were more likely to be dedicated to creating them yourself or creator spotlights on the “Hot Topic Main Stage”, which I’m not a big fan of.  Instead of being in a normal panel room, this stage is in the back of one of the halls and fans all crowd around it like cattle.  Standing in a crowd while a creator talks with relatively poor acoustics isn’t my idea of a great time.  That said, it was the main way to see Stan Lee, Grant Morisson, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, and others if you didn’t want to stand in a long autograph line.  But for fans who want to meet these mega-popular creators, this con afforded them the opportunity and for people who have never met an idol before, standing in an autograph line for a quick meet-and-greet to get a treasured collectible signed is something well worth the wait.

The artist’s alley was large and right in the middle of the show floor.  A welcome change from cons like San Diego where they have the artists exiled off to a far corner of the convention.

I attended 4 panels on Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed 3 of them:

  • Star Trek Continues: A fan-created series presenting the continuing adventures of the 60s crew of the Starship Enterprise.  This was so well done it could have been shown on TV back in the 60s and except for the fact it has different actors, would fit right in with the originals.   You can watch episodes on the web and I encourage any Trek fans to check it out.
  • YouTube Spaces – A World of Superheroes: A variety of web series created by people were allowed to film on sets with professional quality super-hero lairs and other sets, as well as being able to reserve lighting and sound kits to use for filming.  Not every one was a winner, but by and large they were very entertaining fan films
  • Image Revolution: A showing of a documentary film about the founding of Image comics with archival footage and new interviews with the seven founders and others who were there to see it unfold.  This was the gem of the convention for me, and will be available on DVD in January 2016.
  • Batman Fan Series: The Great Mistake of Dr. Miles:  Wow!  So bad.  Objectively bad.  After seeing the previous fan films of the day I had a bar in my head of what I expected for acting, costumes, story.  This had painfully wooden acting, really poor looking costumes (that looked like store-bought Halloween costumes).  I walked out of this one after about 10 minutes, it was too much to bear.
Comikaze2015 Lobby

Photo by Bob Bretall

Summing up: If you’re a pop culture fan in the Los Angeles area, Comikaze Expo is a great show.  Lots of action on the show floor and a great artist’s alley.  Lots of cosplay action and TV/animation/movie content galore.  They could do much better on pure comic book content, but that’s not necessarily a big deal for many fans.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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