Friday, February 20, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Character of the Day


Datablog: House of Ideas versus House of Management

Hi, welcome to the Datablog. This week: business versus storytelling.

To begin, let's start by having you, dear reader, go to the official DC Comics website, and then to the official Marvel Comics website. Go on, go check 'em out. I'll be here waiting.

Now, what I want you to do next is go back and look at each site each and ask yourself a simple question: which of these websites is promoting nothing but comic books, and which of these sites is promoting an entire business?

If you're guessing Marvel Comics is the latter, you're guessing correctly.

Now, it's a little unfair to say that DC Comics is only promoting comics on their website; there's the DC Direct link, and links to MAD Magazine and ZUDA. But go back to the Marvel site and you'll find multiple hubs related to not only comics, but to kids entertainment, internet games, digital media, the Marvel Store, TV & Movie news, and even Corporate News. This isn't merely the website of a comic book publisher, it's the website of a media franchise establishment, and that, dear reader, is why Marvel Comics dominates the sales charts every month. Forget whether or not they're telling the best stories, or have the best artists, or strive for the most quality month in and month out. Marvel Comics understands, nay, Joe Quesada understands that comic books are a business just like any other business, and people want to get fed. Marvel Comics are in the daily spotlight in both internet and print news, on the Colbert Report and on Spider-Man is in video stores in cartoon and cinematic forms, in video games and action figures. Walk down the aisles of any local Target and you're going to find more Spider-Man and Marvel figures than you will DC Direct toys. Why? Because Marvel has grasped something that it appears that DC has not: in order to make the sales, you have to branch out beyond simple comic books.

But is that a good thing?

Let's look at the much-hyped Hulk comic book: once upon a time, under Greg Pak, it was a thrilling story about the green giant on a world where he could be respected, and could finally allow himself to be at his most destructive. But that came crashing down, the Hulk took the hurt to those he felt was responsible, and gave up at the end once he realized he was defeated. Some seriously epic storytelling. Now Jeph Loeb has taken the reins of the Hulk title, and we have a massive, red-hued Hulk running about, defeating every over-powered hero/villain in sight, which includes cold-cocking Thor and even Uatu the Watcher. I think that is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but nevermind that for now; the point is that Hulk's sales have never been better. And I say that without looking at sales charts for reference. Secret Invasion as well is an excellent demonstration that one writer can control an entire universe by simply tossing a left-field twist onto the end of an event title that needed two or three other books just to make sense. Illuminati, Initiative, Invasion, impressive. Brian Michael Bendis deserves an Eisner for simply being able to write as many books simultaneously and have absolutely none of them be near the quality of any single issue of the Distinguished Competition's "secret" book, Secret Six. Seriously; compare any issue or tie-in of Secret Invasion to any single issue of Secret Six and the Six will win. Why? Two words.



Look, Final Crisis is what it is, and it's just as guilty of using other titles to tell a story. However, I argue that FC kept it mostly contained to the tie-in books, not the regular monthly books (excepting two issues of Batman, and a couple issues of JLA). Comparing one event to another isn't the point: the point here is to compare one publisher to another and decipher why one consistently sells more comics. Well the proof is in the pudding. Marvel simply goes balls out to promote and sell the fuck out of their product. That's what comic books are to Marvel: product. Is that bad? Not necessarily. Anything is a product. Go buy anything, that's product. What potentially is bad here is that "product" could become another word for "mass-produced shit." Look, McDonald's isn't nearly as good as the local burger joints I frequent, but I'll still go to McDonald's. And quite frankly, I feel I can make a better burger than any of them. But I'm not selling burgers, I'm buying them. And if I want a damn good burger, I'll go to the local joint and get a damn good burger; that's usually what I do. But if I want some overall good food, I'll go to McDonald's, because there's something for everyone, and the family wants food too. You see what I'm saying?

I love DC Comics; I love the quality storytelling, I love the promise of a good book almost every time I crack open the cover. I like Marvel; I like that it's cool and hip and wow and tells a good yarn. But quality every time isn't what I get from Marvel. I get a lot of bang for my buck, but sometimes I just get hungry again half an hour later. Mostly, I get satisfied from reading the latest issue of Batman, or Action, or Green Lantern. I am also a reader of very discerning taste, so if I'm not into a particular character, either the writer or the artist had better be the draw, or I'm not reading it. That's mostly why I haven't read X-Men in forever. Lately, Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi's Astonishing X-Men has drawn me in like a horny man to a trashy bar, and in diving in so very little to Marvel's merry mutants, I'm discovering that if there's one book I don't like, there's several more to whet my appetite. Classic X-Men? Try Legacy, or Origins, or First Class. Modern? Uncanny and X-Factor, or X-Force to give you a go. And don't get me started on the number of fucking comics Wolverine is in; I'm buying at least one of them starting in April, and we'll see where it goes from there.

But that's the thing about Marvel: there's twenty books that are at least related to whatever character or team you like, so it's always something for you to buy. DC doesn't really have those options. Don't like what's going on in Batman? There's always Detective. Or, um, well, you know, some other book with Batman. Like, uh, Cacophony. You know, that Kevin Smith mini. And Superman! Superman is in his book, and Action Comics, and, ah, well, oh, Superman/Batman. You can get Superman AND Batman in one book! Or in Justice League. Or Super-Friends! Meanwhile Spider-Man is published three times A MONTH on top of the other fifty books or so he's in. You see what I'm saying? Marvel's on top of the options game, and running those numbers is staggaring. Marvel has it's own film production offices in Manhattan Beach, CA, right down the street from where I used to live, while DC is owned/run by Time-Warner who is really dragging their feet about doing, well, ANYTHING cinematically that doesn't involve Christian Bale. Marvel, for their business savvy, is CELEBRATING comic books! Celebrating and selling comic books! DC Comics is telling damn fine stories, but man, where's the beef? Where's the Watchmen Babies? Where's the film version of the Flash for fuck's sake? Cartoons of Wonder Woman are great for fuck-all in my opinion; Watchmen is posed to be the best thing DC and Time-Warner have put out yet.

So, really, it really just boils down to which matters more: getting your name out, or concentrating on the base product. Selling action figures (which, in turn, sells comics when you think about it), or selling comics. DC sells comics, tells comic stories, and arguably tells better stories than Marvel does. Marvel sells comics, video games, T-shirts, movies, offers digital versions of their library, action figures, the works. But do they tell better stories? Arguably no. But do they love their comics? Yes they do; look at how they pimp them.

So what do you care about more? Which gets your dollar? McDonald's? Or the local burger joint?

I still think I make 'em better, but that's besides the point.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

$500 gets you this:

Filmmakers The Purchase Brothers made this video, and the second part (which isn't online yet) for a mere $500.


Watch that again.



Character of the Day


Datablog: If You Want Blood, You Got It

Welcome to the Datablog. This week we speak of X-Men.

I firmly believe that if you want to see how good a writer truly is, and by good I mean flexible, you should put them on an X-Men book and stand back for the results. If the results are either (A) passable, or (B) something pretty damn cool, you've got a writer who can really write anything he/she wants, and let them go on to write whatever. If the results are poor, well, we again see the strengths of the writer. I say this because there have been few X-Men stories in the last twenty years that I've read and have actually cared about, so let's get down to what makes an X-Men story good.

One word: evolution.

Now, evolution in and of itself isn't necessary a good or bad thing; it's not the sword, it's the swordsman. Anyone could write an X-Men story that breaks the mold, but does that mean it's in a good way? Anyone could write a classic-feeling X-Men story, but does that mean we need it? We certainly don't need another Wolverine-goes-and-finds-himself-and-digs-for-the-past story. Those are things of the past; we got that with Origin and New X-Men: Assault On Weapon Plus. Going back and telling stories with Wolverine, featuring the Canadian mutant who isn't actually Canadian in his past years, could work by giving us more Wolverine at any point in the timeline. Wolverine is one of the few characters you could throw into any genre because he's been alive since the 1800s. Almost 200 years old, James Howlett has seen it all, and as Old Man Logan is demonstrating, still has more to see. But another thing is this: if you're writing Wolverine, you really should be bringing your A-game, or you're just telling another Wolverine story. Mark Millar, I think, understands Wolverine to the degree that his big idea mindset is to throw Wolverine in the path of anything and having fun with it. See Enemy of the State. And that's cool. Throwing Wolverine into the path of more ninjas isn't by definition cool anymore, because how many times have we seen that? A whole bunch. You've got to bring something cool to the mix or it's going to fall apart.

Grant Morrison, brought a whole bunch of new ideas to X-Men and let them go crazy. But he had a point, a method, and while he stretched his imagination and the way we read comics, he kept his storyline simple: what are mutants? And to further conceptualize this, Joss Whedon continued that line of thinking with Astonishing X-Men, and not only brought back Colossus, but gave us new ways to view Professor X and a truly dangerous Danger Room. If you need a better example of how to break the X-Men out of the mold, Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous is the best way to go.

Ed Brubaker captured my attention with his work on X-Men, as did Mike Carey, Kyle and Yost, Peter David, and currently Warren Ellis. Warren Ellis is mostly hit or miss with me (see Thunderbolts), and can meander from point to point, but his run on Astonishing thus far is just as entertaining and full of high-brow thought as anything in Morrison's New X-Men. Why? Because he's breaking the mold and putting the X-Men through their paces with something random, off the wall, and totally fucking cool. But cool doesn't cut the mustard on its own. I've attempted to read Claremont and Byrne's work, and in retrospect it doesn't hold up so well. I think it's known mostly for killing Jean Grey, and the Phoenix story. That's fine; that's a classic story. It's certainly not aged well from a storytelling standpoint, but it's classic. So of course we hold it up and go "GOLD STANDARD!" Anybody could write that story these days; but it's old and grey and classic, so we revere it. I say "pah!" and move on. Look at the Onslaught story by Jeph Loeb and the Age of Apocalypse story by various. AoA was something wicked at the time, and I admit I was hooked when I was thirteen, but come on: really? That was such a product of 90's thought as to be so ludicrous by today's standards. And House of M: really? Seriously? With three words, Wanda Maximoff has damned all mutantkind? Really? It just works that way? And Chuck Austen reducing Magneto's biggest threat into "It WAS Xorn, he just thought he was Magneto!"? My god. Listen, Magneto should be retired. I mean it, he should die of old age and retire. At this point, he's, what, seventy? Eighty? And is still considered a huge threat to the X-Men? His entire point is that the horrors of the Nazi occupation could ring true with mutantkind, demonstrated by his escape from Auschwitz as a young man. Magneto, at ninety some odd years old, is far too old to be any threat to anyone. But the problem is that he isn't; by comic book aging, he's spritely enough to still "MU HU HA HA" and threaten. And his powers no longer work! Magneto is an example of Marvel's inability to look at their own realism: he's ninety and he's kicking the X-Men's ass. No. He should be dead because Wolverine killed him in New X-Men: Planet X, except that that was Xorn, and Magneto was...where again? I don't know. I ignored it because it hurt my brain too much to try and figure out why he wasn't dead. Essentially, Magneto is Marvel's cash cow, and one of their coolest villains, so somehow he had to come back. Just like Sabretooth will at some point, and so will Jean Grey. Because that's what happens with the X-Men: the status quo must be.

Let's look at Joy Division in comparison to the X-Men. Ian Curtis kills himself, and the band reformats inself as New Order, and we get "Blue Monday." Evolution. Jean Grey dies and we get new stories. Except that Jean Grey comes back. Ian Curtis never came back. We get Joy Division covers all the time, but Ian Curtis never came back. You see what I'm saying? Why, out of all the mainstream comic books on the market, does X-Men continually come back to the well and drag out old characters that should have gone by the wayside years ago? Magneto, Jean Grey, Professor fucking X, all should be dead. Jean is still dead, thank god, but how long can that truly last? Consider Hope Summers, the fucking Messiah X Baby. Green eyes, red hair, just like lil' Rachel Summers, who is the current Phoenix retainer. So long as we keep Rachel and this new Hope in the books, there'll be no need for Jean. Seeing Colossus come back, that was alright, and while I wish dead were dead, Whedon wrote that scene so amazingly well that I couldn't help but smile and say "You know what, all fucking right!" Kitty Pryde, Lost In Space, that's a bitch, tho. That's one that has an out, but that's gonna be a hell of a stretch to bring her back.

Look, we don't need X-Babies or X-Traction Team. We don't need another 90's explosion of X-Books. I think that going back and redefining what the X-Men are while still moving forward would be a great idea. Messiah Complex was a great story, the first really good X-Men story I've read in a long time, and I plan on buying the trade at some point. If we had great writers doing that all the time, fuckin' A. That would really bring the X-Books back to greatness. Not "Sex and Violence" or "X-Infernus" or Chris fucking-kiss-my-ass-you-old-sod Claremont. Real, honest to god writers with a breath of fresh air in them.

Put any writer on X-Men and let them go nuts, and if it's a good story, that's the mark of a good writer. The potenial is so there, but the bar is set high.

EDIT: Thanks to ERIC RUPE for reminding me that Onslaught was created by Scott Lobdell, not Jeph Loeb. Loeb is still a bad writer, though.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Internet Obsession

There are a lot of things on the internets. There are a lot of things that catch my attention and refuse to allow me a social life.

For example:

Simone Bianchi.
Marvel Comics.
Your mom.

Enjoy the linkies and a view into my world. I'll provide more another time.

Character of the Day

Lady Deathstrike.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009