James Knows…Comics

Falling Out with Batman

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I’ve always loved comics.  I was into them as a kid and bought up a ton of them, although I didn’t read all of them.  Somewhere in my early teens, I fell out of the medium.  I got back into comics during my sophomore year in college thanks to my roommate, Anthony.  One weekend, I binged every book he had picked up during that semester and then set up my own pull list.  This grew to a $50-$60 a week habit before I quit cold turkey about five years later.  I got back in once I started writing for HorrorTalk.  During these three phases, I had different levels of appreciation for comics.  Now I wonder where it will go next because I don’t see the fun in the output of the Big Two publishers that I once did.

This isn’t meant to be a doom and gloom post about the downfall of the comic book industry.  It’s also not meant to be a Simpsons Comic Book Guy type rant about how super hero books are for kids.  With my decades of exposure to comics, I’ve developed a few observations.  Most recently, I’ve noticed that there really isn’t much in the way of character development when it comes to any of the major characters of Marvel or DC.  There are some exceptions to this rule and I’ll get to them in a moment, but stay with me for a second.

Let’s start with Batman.  Aside from his revolving door of sidekicks (who have progressed far more than he ever has), is Batman really all that different today than he was 5 years ago?  What about 10 years ago?  25? 50? 75? The core principles remain, of course.  He’s fighting a never-ending war on crime to avenge the death of his parents.  But, has he changed or developed as a character?  No, he hasn’t.  He’s still the same, gruff loner that he’s always been.  Although talented creators have told incredible stories featuring the Dark Knight, he hasn’t learned anything in his 75+ years of existence.  He still makes the same mistakes.  He still doesn’t let anyone in (which also leads to the same mistakes).  His war on crime might as well be America’s war on drugs or war on terror.  It’s never going to end and there’s no way to win it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t read every single Batman comic.  There may be stories out there that show real character development for the world’s greatest detective.  I would argue that those are exceptions to the rule and/or momentary tangents from the main storyline.  To put it in NASCAR terms for a moment, those are pit stops along a racetrack.  He’s going around and around, occasionally stopping to refuel.


I have a glimmer of hope with some of the titles spinning out of DC Rebirth, the linewide relaunch, primarily Detective Comics, written by James Tynion IV with artwork from various artists.  It focuses on a Batman who is building a team around him including Batwoman, Red Robin, Clayface, Orphan (Cassandra Cain), Spoiler, and later Bat Wing and Azrael.  He recognizes that he can’t fight this war alone and begins training the next generation of heroes to protect Gotham City.  Despite this awesome premise and a terrific cast, Batman still succumbs to the same pitfalls he always does, especially with how he handles loss.  Spoiler alert: NOT WELL.  When a member of his team “dies,” he retreats inward, thinking that he has to fight and train harder to prevent anyone from ever getting hurt ever again.  He shoulders the entire responsibility, turning his grief into a burden he must bear to protect not only this city, but anyone he cares about.  This pushes everyone away, even though they’re also in mourning.  The one person they can turn to who has been through this on several occasions (with his parents and Jason Todd to name a few), is emotionally absent and actively shuns them.  There is no shoulder to cry on here.  There is no grief counselor to help you get through it.  Instead, there’s just Batman who won’t even look at you.

The main Batman title, written by Tom King, while incredible, is more of the same with a smaller supporting cast.  Again, I want to clarify that I love both of these titles.  If I still had a pull list, they would both be on there.  I’ve been fortunate that DC Comics has started sending review copies out of their books so I’ve been able to catch up a bit between those and recent ComiXology sales.  It’s just that after reading hundreds and hundreds of comics from publishers big and small, I want to see these characters grow and change.  Most importantly, I want to see them learn from their mistakes, not make the same ones time and time again.

I think this is one of the many reasons why I loved Logan so much.  It showed an ending for a super hero character that is incredibly rare.  It was fitting and showed real growth.  If you look at Wolverine in the first X-Men movie and look at him in Logan, that is a changed man in more ways than one.  You can see how he went from X-Men to Logan.  Granted, this is a different medium and Hollywood has some luxuries that comics do not, but I believe the same principles can apply.

Warner Brothers owns Batman.  They can do whatever they want with the character.  Why not show an ending?  Why not show where Bruce Wayne’s life will end up?  Then you can reboot it anyway.  It’s not like there isn’t precedent for something like this.  Archie Comics did it a few years ago with Life with Archie, showing a future versions of the character where he married Betty or Veronica.  This depicted the adult lives of the signature characters as they went through common struggles.  It ultimately led to Archie’s death and people LOVED it.  Then Archie got rebooted and it’s one of my favorite books on the stands right now.  It can be done.  Take the chance and see what happens.

This ended up longer than I thought it would.  I’m going to break this up into another post with the next one showing a recent example of a DC character that has changed and in a really awesome way: Superman.

James and the Digital Comic Books

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Over the past six months or so I’ve dove head first into digital comics. I gave up on single issues awhile back but I never gave up on the print graphic novel. I still read them and it’s easy to take one off the shelf. This changed as I started playing with the Marvel Comics app on my tablet. Marvel is doing digital right. I’m not talking about giving away a digital copy of a book when you buy the print version. I think that’s silly and a waste. Of course, there’s no data to back up whether or not people are actually redeeming them.

Hulk_MondayAnyway, here’s what Marvel does: Every week they give away 2-4 comics on their app. They change up the books every week, but the free titles are available for two weeks. Once you “buy” them, they’re linked to your account and you can read them whenever you want. The free issues are usually the first issues of a title or a new arc. This is now as a “good jumping on point.” I like to call it “sampling” because that’s what it is. You know that phrase “The first taste is free”? That applies here too. I tried out Avengers Academy and Secret Avengers because Marvel offered the first issues of both books free on their app. I liked them and went out and bought the first trade paperback of Avengers Academy. Then came my watershed moment. They put the first few issues of both series on sale for $0.99 an issue. I jumped in and grabbed the first two arcs of both books digitally. Suddenly I was a digital comics consumer. That was just the beginning. Now I find myself stalking the comiXology site every day looking for sales.

There are some drawbacks to the medium though. I don’t actually own these comics. What I own is a license to read some titles through these apps or on my computer. I can’t make a backup of them to read later or print them out or something. If comiXology goes under, my comics are gone. Sucks, doesn’t it? But fortunately, they’re doing very well.

The pros far outweigh the cons. I can access hundreds of comics whenever I want as long as I have an Internet connection. Why limit myself to a single trade paperback when I can carry around my tablet and read whatever I want? Plus I can read the comics panel-by-panel, giving the art lots of room and allowing me to look at all the little details that make up each one.

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In addition to all this, I signed up for Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited. It’s a service like Netflix but for comics. You can access a library of over 10,000 issues but you can only do it through their site in their flash based viewer. This is great for me because I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab which allows flash and not an iPad because I hate Apple products (I write as I type this on my MacBook, which I also now hate). The viewer is a little wonky and the library can be spotty, missing sporadic issues. What bugs me most is how slow the site can be when browsing through the directory. I can load up a page and it takes forever to load which is a crime in this day and age.

Now that I have access to all of these comics through a single device, I’ve found that I don’t read physical comics all that often. I have a bunch of graphic novels that I haven’t read yet sitting on a shelf in the next room but I can’t bring myself to pick them up. They feel so annoying to go through now. How can I go back to that when I’ve had such a better experience with digital funny books? These are the problems that I find myself facing now.

Now to Figure Out What Character to Dress Up As…

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Yes, I have a lot to write about with buying a house and a few other things, but this just happened and I’m excited about it.

About a year ago I started writing news and reviews for HorrorTalk, focusing mainly on comics. I did it not because I like horror as a genre as it’s not my favorite by far, but because I like comics. That was it really. Since then I’ve gotten in touch with several publishers and I’ve been writing up news and reviews on a regular basis. I even got quoted on the back of the Nanny & Hank trade paperback. The growth we’ve had at the site has been great. Now it’s even better.

I received a press pass for the New York Comic Con. To come from having absolutely no comic book coverage to getting accepted as press for a major comic convention is such validation for the work I’ve done on HorrorTalk. This will be my first convention too so I’m not exactly sure what to expect. It’s not as big as the San Diego one in July but it’s the largest on the east coast and it’s a quick train ride away for me. Who knows? Maybe I can piggyback on this and get into the San Diego one next year. Of course, I’d have to pay to get there but that’s something else entirely. Plus I’d have to be able to bring Monica because while she’s not interested in the NYCC, she might want to go to San Diego if for nothing else than to see Joss Whedon.

I’m going to have to get a new battery for my MacBook in preparation and I’ll make sure to have my phone, video camera and probably my wife’s digital camera with me at all times to bring all the updates to HorrorTalk as soon as possible.

James Knows…Comics: Fly #1

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I received a copy of this book for review on HorrorTalk. While it doesn’t really fit into the stuff we cover on HT, I liked the book a great deal and wanted to write a quick review for it anyway, so here goes.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re never going to totally win the War on Drugs. It’s just not going to happen. What we can do is educate people so they know what they’re getting into and hopefully they make the right decision. Zenescope Entertainment sets out to enlighten and entertain with their latest ongoing series, Fly. Based on personal experiences with meth addiction, author Raven Gregory takes a look at a world with a drug that could give you super powers and the dangers it could cause.

The first issue of Fly really sets the groundwork for everything. It starts up with this guy Eddie having a really bad day. His car is on top of a lamp post and his super powered ex-wife Danielle is looking for something. She thinks Eddie’s got it and she begins beating him senseless in an effort to get it out of him. That’s now. Then there’s then.

We get a Lost-style flashback to Eddie and Danielle meeting in high school. Eddie seems like a great guy and later saves geeky Francis from some bullies. Francis decides to reward Eddie by showing him something in his dad’s safe: a drug called Fly that gives Francis the ability to…well…fly.

This is great framework and left me wanting some more. Eric J handles the art duties for the present-day stuff which looks great. It has this feel of darkness surrounding each panel. You can just tell that Eddie is in for a rough road ahead. The flashbacks are clearly done by another artist though as the style is completely different. It looks almost cartoony in the way it’s handled. I like that they have different styles for the flashbacks and the present day storyline though. The past is filled with bright colors and hope while the present is the complete opposite.

As I mentioned, this is a great setup for a new comic. I’m looking forward to more from Fly. There have been comics that are a little similar to it. The one that comes to mind first is Mark Millar’s never finished War Heroes, but this has an interesting take on it. Zenescope just announced that the first printing was sold out, so look around for a copy at your local shop. It’s worth checking out.

Ratings
Story Rating: ★★★★☆
Art Rating: ★★★½☆
Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

James Knows…Comics: Batman: Cacophony by Kevin Smith

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Sometimes two great tastes don’t taste great together. What works with peanut butter and jelly doesn’t work for everything. This was the case for me with Kevin Smith and Batman. I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan and I f-ing love Batman so when I heard that Kevin Smith was writing a Batman story I had to go change my Spider-Man underpants. Smith’s previous comic work on Daredevil and Green Arrow were both great so I was looking forward to what he could do with Batman.

I don’t know if it was the time away from comics or the tremendous exposure I’ve had to Smith lately through the various pieces of the SModcast network but this book just didn’t do it for me. Not only that, but this was one of the worst Batman stories I read. I understand Smith’s devotion to the character and I know how much artist Walt Flanagan put into the story but this was just not a good story. I think Batman was alright in the story but the Joker was where I was lost. It didn’t feel like the Joker. It felt like Kevin Smith in a Joker suit. It was clearly his voice throughout the book so the Joker’s dialogue is filled with poop jokes and thinly veiled gay innuendo.

The art by Flanagan is just OK and adds nothing really to the book. It felt average at best. I want to like it more because I like Flanagan but this was just blah.

Even with all this I’m still planning on picking up the duo’s next Batman book, The Widening Gyre. I don’t know if I’m a glutton for punishment or I’m just a loyal fanboy.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

No One Cares About Wonder Woman So Shut Up Already

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If you’re anywhere near as big as of a nerd as I am, you’re no doubt aware that Wonder Woman got a new costume this week as her comic finally hit 600 issues. The same month saw Batman and Superman reach the 700 issue mark. The reaction has caused a sudden surge in Nerd Rage all over the Internet. I don’t understand this at all.

First of all, these are comic books we’re dealing with. Costumes change for characters all the time. It’s a stunt to sell more issues and keep people talking. It’s happened with Spider-Man at least half a dozen times (Black costume, Iron Spider, That weird metal costume from the ’90s that lasted a single issue, the Scarlet Spider, I could go on), not to mention Superman (do I really have to bring up Electric Blue?) and tons of others. People talk about it for a little while and then after a few months everything goes back to normal because nerds hate change. This will probably happen to Wonder Woman as well. They’ve even thrown out the buzz words like “bold new direction” and “never be the same” which are always surefire signs that nothing will actually make a difference.

Aside from that, I don’t know what people are talking so much about this anyway. No one actually cares about Wonder Woman to begin with. Despite the fact that she’s one of the Holy Trinity at DC along with Batman and Superman, she’s relegated to the back seat. If the Big Three were the daughters of the Brady family, Wonder Woman would be Jan. Her comic has been canceled a bunch of times because readers stopped buying it. They only got to 600 issues after adding up all of the previous volumes of the comic to get there. Did they have to do that with Batman and Superman? Nope!

Yes, Wonder Woman had that TV show with Lynda Carter in the ’70s but that’s about it when it comes to her breaking into other media or mattering much to anyone else. Superman and Batman have had at least 5 movies EACH and Wonder Woman has had a film in Development Hell for years which will seemingly never see the light of day. And no one cares.

So bottom line: Shut Up. Nerds freak out over change when everyone knows that the comic companies will just go back to the status quo within a few issues anyway because they want your money. Giving Wonder Woman pants is not going to destroy the character or ruin your life. They’re pants. Here’s a newsflash for you: Women have been wearing pants for decades. They don’t actually wear giant star covered panties. Deal with it.

The Comic Book Pile is Slowly Shrinking

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My plan to sell off my single issue comic book collection is now underway. Last week I tossed up the first of many ebay auctions for a batch of Marvel Civil War comics. The 40 comics sold for $76, which is way more than I thought they’d go for. As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, my goal is to make enough money to re-buy the issues as trade paperbacks. I understand that I’m going to take a loss on the initial sale, but this way I’ll get rid of the comics that I’ll never read again and basically trade in the other issues for graphic novels that I’ll actually read and will be readily available on my book shelf.

I put up three more lots this week. (Green Lantern, Batman: War Games, and Y: The Last Man). I think that the Green Lantern one will sell for big. I hope so at least because it’s 53 issues. Y will probably go for an OK amount, but I don’t know if Batman will sell because even though it’s about 30 issues, the storyline included wasn’t that popular. We’ll see though. I’ve still got a few days before it ends.

I thought about putting up more, but with all the stuff going on with the move and our road trip it’s going to be a pain in the ass to get all these together and ship them. I’m going to stick to about three each week and take it from there. That way I’m not overwhelmed with shipping and whatnot. I’ll have to move some of the comics with me to the new apartment, but that’ll be OK. At least by that time they’ll take up a little less space.

Trade In Your Funny Books for Cash!

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file0274 Some time ago I stopped buying single issue comics. I just flat out stopped. There were a variety of factors that led to this decision (time, money, car travel, lack of interest, etc.), but my comic collection stopped growing. I’m still interested in some of the stories though. My biggest problem with owning these comics is the difficulty involved in reading them again. If I want to read a story again, I have to search through the long boxes to locate the chosen issues, put the boxes back in their places, read through all the issues (with ads) and then put them back afterwards. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a six issue story, it’s a pain in the ass. I thought I had come up with a solution some time ago using a few binders and sheet protectors from Staples. This was still annoying though, plus they took up a lot of space. So a new decision was made. I’m selling them all.

That’s right. Everything must go. All of my single issues are going out the door. This is a two pronged strategy. On the one hand, I’ll finally get rid of the comics that I know I’ll never read ever again. So long, OMAC Project! See you later, Chris Claremont penned Uncanny X-Men! Peace out, 1602 sequels! That’s the one side. The other goal is to sell the single issues for stories I actually want to read again (ie: Civil War, Sinestro Corps War) and then re-buy the comics in trade paperback form. I fully acknowledge that I’ll be taking a loss by selling the comics. I dropped about $3 an issue and I know I won’t get that back. I’m just going to try and get enough money to buy the book as a trade. That way I can sort of break even and any money I get for the books I don’t plan on re-buying will be extra and can go towards new trades and books I don’t have yet.

It sounds like a good idea (at least to me), but I’ll see how things net out. I’ve got a few people that are already interested in some of the issues. If anyone else wants to have a look at the list (now typed up in Excel), let me know. I’ll probably see what I can get rid of in the next few weeks and then put a bunch of them on ebay and get what I can get.

Comics Corner – Week of 12/4

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My ever-shrinking comic pull list got a little smaller this week. I almost didn’t go to Alternate Realities this week since there were only 5 comics that I wanted to pick up, but with the conclusion to Secret Invasion amongst them I figured I should probably make the trip. So here’s what I think of this week’s books. Feel free to skip to the end to call me retarded.

  • Batman #682 – I thought that the previous issue (which I didn’t really care for) would be the end of this whole Batman R.I.P. thing. Unfortunately, I was incorrect. It seems that there’s this issue and one more that basically consist of Grant Morrison trying to make sense of DC’s embarrassingly fucked up continuity. See, Batman R.I.P., this story that’s supposed to completely change the Batman stories forever and ever, takes place BEFORE the current crapfest, Final Crisis, where Batman (Bruce Wayne) is currently held captive and strapped to some weird machine. So all the thought of Bruce dying or in any way leaving the Batman cape and cowl behind is for naught because we know he’s still running around later on in Final Crisis. This issue jumped around like a crazy person and I still don’t really understand it. I think it’s supposed to be told from Alfred’s point of view and it basically jumps from weird point to weird point in the life of Bruce Wayne / Batman. I was going to pick up this and the next issue to make sure I had the issues that were in the trade. Now? Eh. I’m good with this. I don’t need anymore.
    Rating: ★★☆☆☆
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My Comic Book Storage Solution…For Now

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With my comic book habit reaching critical mass, I’ve realized that I just can’t keep collecting single issues, especially when trades are just so easy. I made this decision about two months ago and I’m working on canceling all of my regular issues. Now what to do with all the books I’ve already got? They’re all collecting dust in a bunch of long boxes in a corner of my apartment, never to be read again. I could try and sell them and then buy the trades of the ones I’d like to read again, but that seems illogical, especially since I literally just bought some of them.

I think a main reason that I don’t re-read the single issues is accessibility. They’re in their boxes and it’s a pain in the ass to rifle through them, lifting up box after box to get to a story buried in the back. Once it gets filed away, it’s basically out of sight, out of mind. So I set out to find a way for me to make the comics I had readily available like a regular book. I think I found a rather affordable way to do it too. (more…)

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