08 August 2006

More on how Things got Fucked and Why Your Spawn Comics are Worthless


Okay, so it's 1993 and superhero funnybooks are riding high saleswise, even though qualitywise they're pretty consistently crap. (There are exceptions, sure. There are always exceptions.) DC has "Reign of the Supermen" and "Knightfall/Knightsquest/Knightsed" running interminably, Marvel is pushing out polybagged-collector's-card-super-collectable-six-different-title crossovers like X-Cutioner's Song and Rise of the Midnight Sons, and a bunch of other companies are nipping at their chromium die-cut holographic heels, with Valiant and Image at the forefront. So imagine the excitement when Valiant and Image announced a big cross-company crossover: DEATHMATE!

This was tipped to be the collector's item classic bonanza of the year, and people ordered lots and lots and lots of this hot book, scheduled to come out over the summer of 1993.

Except the Image issues came out in October, December, with Rob Liefeld's Deathmate Red issue finally coming out in late January 1994, somewhat after the summer excitement wore off.
This was hardly a new development for Image Comics, and as the company approached its third birthday, retailers and fans were getting less and less patient with the new company's excuses at being "new at this". Retailers were particularly hurt by this, since they were sinking a lot of money into pre-ordering (collectively) a million or more copies of hot books like Spawn and Wildcats, only to find the books delayed several months. At a certain point the late books would be made returnable due to the publisher's breach of contract, and lots of books barely squeaked in under the deadline, often with shortened main stories with the solicited artist/characters and lengthy "special previews" of the next books.

In a move showing amazing chutzpah, Todd McFarlane took Spawn #19, which was something like six months late and returnable, and shipped it out as Spawn #21, which was in fact not returnable because it was only two months late. He later resolicited an obvious-rush-job fill-in story about Spawn vs. Houdini for issues 19-20. None of this sat well with retailers, who were starting to run into some money troubles in ordering super-late issues of Spawn or Youngblood, especially since they hadn't raked in the big bucks with their unsold cases of Spawn and Youngblood from two years previous.

The speculators were also getting tired of not getting a big return on their crates of collector's item #1 issues. They were starting to leave in droves, forcing the retailers to eat even bigger stacks of all these books. Marvel was in financial trouble too, as Pereleman was doing some really scummy money-swapping deals with his corporations, and Marvel corporate was in an insane buying spree, purchasing Toy Biz, Fleer, Skybox, Malibu Comics and various other things that had no positive impact on their comics line, which while still managing to make money every quarter, was starting to get mired down pretty severely with very shitty comics.

All of these conditions combine to lead to what was really the Perfect Storm of fucking over superhero comics, which came along in December of 1994 when Marvel purchased Heroes World Distributors. Heroes World was a pretty small little distributor, mainly servicing comic shops along the northern East Coast, and Marvel purchased it with the intention of making it their sole distributor across the entire country. This made sense in terms of Perelman's vision of Marvel owning (and therefore profiting) from every step of the process (this is why he wanted to buy a toy company, a trading card company, etc). But it was a spectacularly bad idea. I cannot stress this enough.
At the time that Marvel bought Heroes World, there were probably around a dozen or so distributors set up to accomodate the direct market. Diamond and Capitol City were probably the two largest, but lots of smaller ones dotted the country, mostly specializing in a particular region or in independent comics or something like that. There was competition between distributors for the business of different shops, which American Capitalism will tell you is healthy.

So Marvel buys Heroes World, and announces that in a few months, HW would be the sole distributor of Marvel Comics to the direct sales market. All comic shops would have to divide their monthly order between at least two different distributors: Heroes World and [another distributor for everyone else]. Given that even during the boom, Marvel usually made up ~40% of the market in a given month, this reduced their total outlay to Diamond/CCity/etc. quite a bit. This is not only a hassle, but since comic shops' ordering discount is often contingent on their total order, this pushed practically everyone down to a lower discount tier.

Almost immediately after Marvel bought Heroes World, Steve Geppi and Diamond went on an Exclusive Signing Spree and got nearly everyone else that mattered at the time signed up to exclusive distribution deals: DC, Image, Dark Horse, Valiant and Wizard, and some other companies to boot. It was at this point that Diamond created the "premiere" section or whatever the call it in the front of their Previews catalog, putting all of the "big" [then-exclusive] publishers up front and prominently displayed, and shoving everyone else into the back ghetto.

Most distributors, faced with a loss of ~90% of their comics business, folded very quickly. Capital City managed to get a few exclusives with who I guess we'd call the "indie" publishers -- Kitchen Sink and Viz are the two I remember, and this was before manga was big so Viz was not really any sort of force. So now comic shops were forced to order from three different distributors, or more likely just not bother ordering various indie books because it would be such a pain in the ass. So not only were the store owners boned by this decision, but some of the smaller publishers got hurt too.

Once Heroes World got off the ground... well, there were some growing pains. To add to the lateness troubles that still plagued many Image books (as well as other indies, several of which, like Valiant, were in the middle of going out of business), now Marvel was trying to ship out every comic they sell out of a regional distribution business that was accustomed to servicing a few dozen shops in a radius of a few hundred miles. Books were regularly delayed -- not neccesarily for months, but often shipments wouldn't show up on Wednesday, or wouldn't be the right comics, would end up damaged, at the wrong address, and everything else you could imagine going wrong when someone unprepared for a shipping business starts up. This all spells further trouble for already struggling retailers, who start dropping like flies, or depending more and more on Magic the Gathering cards and other non-comics stuff to pay the rent.

The whole industry at this point pretty much goes into a free-fall. The best selling comics start selling about a tenth of what they used to, with the hottest books barely poking into six figures. All the publishers buckle down to really hit their "core constituency", the sort of people who will gladly buy in excess of five or six titles featuring Batman/Superman/Spider-Man, who will buy every single issue of Zero Hour or Onslaught, who will follow their favorites through anything. And even those people started getting bitter and declaring crazy boycotts over the treatment of Hal Jordan, over the Spider-Clone saga, over Heroes Reborn, whatever. We'll get into the sort of comics these people inspired a bit later.

Anyway, after a few months of the Heroes World experiment, Capital City (now lacking the ability to distribute comics by Marvel, DC, Image, Valiant, Dark Horse, Wizard, and about a dozen other publishers) shuts down, and is purchased by Diamond, who as of 1996 distributes literally every comic book sold in a direct sales comic shop, except those published and distributed by Marvel. Following a whole bunch of bad business shit (little to none of it involved with the publishing of funnybooks), Marvel Comics declares bankruptcy in 1996. As a result of this, Heroes World shuts down and Marvel signs an exclusive with, you guessed it... Diamond! Proud monopolistic distributors of everything you buy in a comic book shop since 1997!

I imagine a lot of you have been reading comics for less than a decade and don't really remember a time before the big ol' Previews catalog was the only game in town. Diamond is to blame for a lot of the shittiness of comics in the mid to late 1990s, as they had a pretty sweet racket going on as de facto Tastemakers of the direct sales funnybook market.

Besides stripmining the loyal old school comic fans, the other market that could almost be considered "successful" in this period were the BAD GIRL books -- Vampirella, Shi, Witchblade, Lady Death, Avengylene, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. In a funny bit of synergy, almost all of these were published by Diamond Exclusive publishers, and given a lot of attention in the "Diamond Premium" section of the catalog, the bit up front with all the color pages and feature "spotlights". This got the books a lot of attention, and considering that Wizard (another Diamond Exclusive publisher, what a coincidence!) kept touting these books as the greatest thing ever, and the prices on back issues kept shooting up (a price guide organized by Wizard, how strange!) suddenly this became a big hot thing, even though I defy you to find more than a dozen people alive today that could describe the plot in any given issue of one of these books. And I open this contest to the writers, artists and editors of these "bad girl" books.

So here we are, 1996. Two thirds of the comic shops in the country have shut down. Superman has a mullet, at least five (often closer to a dozen) books churned out a month, and a readership that is about 6% of what he got when he was dead. There's only one distributor pushing comics to the remaining stores, and only the most hardcore and devoted of superhero readers left standing after all the bullshit drove away the people who are not extremely dedicated or patient.

Comics are fun!

Why Superhero Comics Sucked in the 1990s and the Industry Tanked pt 1

People often talk about the 1990s as the Bad Old Days of comics; this is obviously an over-generalization as there were plenty of good funnybooks that got released between 1990-1999; the 1990s were also the decade that saw Vertigo flourishing as its own imprint, and the "indie" comic really come into its own, with people like Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Seth, Chris Ware, Evan Dorkin and others making their mark. Marvel and DC always have some reliable creators on staff who manage to poke their head above the current trends, and even Valiant, Ultraverse and some other aborted lines had some really good concepts at their core that got sucked under by the shit-tsunami.

But when people talk about the 1990s, they're mostly talking about superhero comics. And they're really talking about 1988 (or so) to 1996 (or so). It's easy to pick up on the transparently Bad Ideas of that period, like the Superbitch Sue Richards, Liefeld's fifteenth iteration of Cable or six different limited edition chromium die cut covers polybagged with a hologram. But the factors behind the scenes were as ugly as what was often being published. As ugly as Herb Trimpe, longtime Marvel Bullpen workhorse and ordained minister forced to grind out his last years in the industry pretending he never learned how to draw, throwing together horrifically ugly Liefeld pastiches of grimacing women in thongs because that is what, for a moment, the Market Demanded.

There were really several factors that led to the frequently extraordinary "badness" of superhero comics in the 1990s. This is going to be really long, and I apologize for that, but fully understanding how fucked superhero comics (and the industry in general) were circa 1997 or so takes some explaining.

In the mid 1980s, DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel Superhero Secret Wars were two big twelve-issue "event" mini-series that featured practically every character in their respective universes and crossed over into a number of ongoing series. They were both huge successes sales-wise, and so this started both companies off doing frequent "events", which usually involved a core mini-series and dozens of crossover issues. This came to a head in the 1990s, which we'll get to in a minute.

At the same time, the 1980s saw a lot of attention being cast on comics and other collectibles (toys, baseball cards, etc.) as baby boomers started spending insane amounts of money to recapture their childhood via Mickey Mantle and Spider-Man. When people learned that comics from 20-30 years were now selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars, people seemed to think that hey, if they bought comics today they could put their kids through college in 20 years.

The big flaw in this theory, across the board, is that old collectables are valuable because they are rare. Most Mickey Mantle rookie cards and X-Men #1s were sold to kids that beat the hell out of them, rolled them up, stuck them in bicycle spokes, left them outside in a tree-house, and got them thrown out when they were grounded or left for college. Their rarity is what drives the prices up, not neccesarily their age.

So when Marvel started hyping up Spider-Man #1, X-Force #1 and X-Men #1 in 1990-1, they nudged the reader to believe that one day soon, they would all be worth thousands of dollars. However, these books all had print runs in the millions, and the majority of these copies were being immediately placed in bags and boxes so that they will be in mint condition. Consequently, these comics can now often be had for a quarter or less.

But at the time, comics were riding high, with lots of books regularly selling a million copies or more per issue. The readership was almost certainly lower than that, since a great many issues were being purchased in bulk, either by collectors or by a store-owner who salted them away dreaming of future profits. Hearing about the big business being made in comics, corporate raider Ron Perelman bought up Marvel in 1988, and triggered the next wave of ridiculousness in his bid to strip-mine the living shit out of any company he owned.

Many of Marvel's hottest artists jumped ship a couple years later. Guys like Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee were hyped up and widely credited with helping create the buzz that resulted in those million-selling #1s I mentioned, but after requesting better pay they were literally compared to hired fieldhands and easily replaceable cogs by a Marvel executive. They quit en masse and formed Image. These guys were mostly in their mid-20s, and without any sort of editorial constraint really kicked off the "XXXTREME" phase of superheroes, with Shadowhawk running around all HIV-positive and breaking heroes backs, Spawn running around as a demon from hell with an enormous cape and skulls everywhere, and dozens of more or less forgotten characters like Cyberforce, Bloodstrike, Ripclaw, Cybernary, Warblade, Bloodwulf, Deathblow and pretty much every other cliched "hardcore" compound name you could imagine. These books were pretty terrible and aren't remembered fondly (or at all) a decade later, but at the time they were HOT HOT HOT and spurred on by speculators they sold like hotcakes.

So pretty soon, Image became the model that Marvel and DC emulated. DC continued the mega-events and special "collector's item" foil/hologram/die-cut/embossed/polybagged" cover trend (originated at Marvel but really brought into its own by upstarts Image and Valiant in the early 1990s) and struck gold in 1992 with the Death of Superman. It was the last big mainstream story about the collectibility of comics, it sold millions of copies, was seen as some sort of historic milestone (people really seemed to think he would stay dead), and launched a series of comics where DC would kill or replace all their big characters -- Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, etc. -- to diminishing returns saleswise.

Marvel, who had already gone through the whole "replacing all the big name characters" gag in the 1980s when then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter thought Jack Kirby might regain copyright of these characters, simply brought in newer more "extreme/Image" anti-hero ersatz versions of their flagships:

Spider-Man --> Venom

Thor -->Thunderstrike

Avengers --> Force Works

Iron Man --> War Machine

Captain America --> USAgent

Fantastic Four --> Fantastic Force

Ghost Rider --> Vengeance

Not to mention any character with a halfway decent following being given multiple titles of their own, launching dozens of secondary or tertiary heroes into their own mini-series or series, starting side-lines like "Marvel 2099", etc. Story quality be damned, Perelman was looking to maximize profits, maximize shelf-space (the better to crowd out all the upstart companies trying to start up) and just generally make as much money as possible.

At the same time, there was a serious talent shortage in comics. Marvel and DC were both operating on the (sadly somewhat true) assumption that their comics sell on the basis of their iconic characters alone, not the talent attached to them. So most of the better writers and artists jumped ship to companies that at least promised better treatment for creators, like Image, Valiant, Dark Horse and the Ultraverse. Other people just left the industry alltogether for jobs in film, animation and elsewhere. But even without these factors, there were so goddamn many comics coming out each month that really really rushed and substandard material was getting released every month. At least when the comics actually came out, which was another mitigating factor in the complete disaster of 1990s superhero comics.

Imagine if you will the peak of the comics speculation boom circa 1993-1994:
there were close to a dozen companies trying to promote themselves as the premiere superhero line. Pretty much all of them were taking their cues from a company being run short-sightedly and incompetently by brash artists with remarkably little business sense beyond hype and surface sheen. The creative impetus boiled down to "make a bunch of flashy changes involving deaths and costumes changes, slap a #1 on the cover of everything possible, ideally have some sort of gimmick cover or insert, and cross the book over with as many other books as possible" and very little attention was paid to boring things like who would actually write or draw the comic. But they were all still selling really well.

You can see how this leads to trouble.

12 July 2006

We still Hatin' Roundtable : Round Duo

Another Week, more shit to bitch about! Holla!

Topic 1: DC's shift towards a new house art style has pushed one of my favorite books to the wayside, so this week we ask since Solo is ending in 2 issues, who do you think should have gotten a Solo?

Jon B:
Ethan Van Sciver was apparently responsible for the majority of what made Green Lantern: Rebirth a good comic, from the gorgeous art to the fantastic construction to all the little visual cues he came up with. According to some Wizard interview somewhere, he also might as well have written half of the damn thing (the good half -- the half without that hilarious sucker punch). He's extremely versatile -- compare his Impulse run to his Green Lantern run -- and has good narrative sense. Frankly, the only reason I can think of for him not getting a Solo is him turning it down because he had too much work.

J. H. Williams III is a dude you cannot say enough good things about ever in terms of artwork. He's one of the best and most thoughtful mainstream artists working today, and his work shows it. Desolation Jones, in particular, is an examples of Williams taking an otherwise middling Ellis comic and turning it into something to come back to. His art in Seven Soldiers #0 and in other works speaks for itself.

Seth Fisher would have been neat to see, but he's passed away.

David Lapham is a competent artist, but his strength lies in his writing and his storytelling -- see his Detective Comics run, his Daredevil vs Punisher mini, and his indie serial Stray Bullets. His art and composition are not the most inventive, nor does has he really demonstrated a range in his work, but nevertheless, since in theory Solo is about the complete package and not just the art, Lapham is the best choice for a complete Solo candidate.

I have to say it would be amazing to see Kyle Baker get out of his exclusive contract and do a Solo issue for DC. He loves the characters and he's a great storyteller. He's able to nail both serious and comedic work so well, I would love for him to do all of them in a Solo.

I would also love to see Bendis draw and write another story. Even though his art isn't fantastic, I've gotten a kick out of his Total Sell Out. I imagine he could do wonders with 48 pages.

I really think Kaare Andrews is an artist with possibly six to seven different styles and I would greatly enjoy to see him execute all these styles with the help of the 52 Writing Team.

Even though he is currently going out of his mind, I wouldn't mind a Frank Miller Solo more in the vein of Sergio Aragones' Solo, with personal tales from Miller's life.

Chris R:
At first I was going to say someone like Cassaday, but he's already got a ton of work out there and his talent is properly recognized. Philip Bond, then, a great artist who's criminally underappreciated, or the likes of Geof Darrow and Travis Charest, who put out gorgeous pages at an agonizing trickle. If we could go into total fantasy territory, I'd love a Solo by Dave Sim or Moebius...Jamie Hewlett, if we could magically pry him away from the Gorillaz gravy train.

27 June 2006

We still Hatin' Roundtable : Round 1

In a long needed move, we're gonna be running a roundtable on a frequent enough basis to talk about comic topics that don't need a sixteen page post that no one is going to read all of no matter how attractive looking the poster is (look below for further example). I present to you, the first edition of the We still Hatin' Roundtable. Enjoy.

Topic 1: OYL Month 4, only 9 months until we know what's going on, what's been the best we seen and the worst?

Superman/Action Comics (Oh god, this has been great, Busiek has finally given Clark a narrative voice!), Aquaman (Busiek has finally given this book a readership!), Teen Titans (I know I am totally alone on this but this book is great fun), Green Lantern, Green Arrow (finally, Winick's run is worth reading again), Blue Beetle, Checkmate, Firestorm, Robin (for most improved)

Supergirl, Outsiders, Manhunter, Catwoman, Hawkgirl, Ion, Spectre, Supergirl and the Legion, Secret Six.

Batman/Detective Comics (This isn't *bad* so much as hugely disappointing - come on, Two-Face AGAIN?), Battle for Bludhaven (This is really, truly incomprehensible storytelling and lazy writing), Shadowpact ("This is opaque!"), JSA.

Up, Up and Away is quite possibly the first Superman Book I've wanted to own and have on my shelf in years. I am actually caring about wherever Geoff Johns is going with Hal OYL since it's the first time Hal Jordan has seemed intresting to me in active contiunity. Blue Beetle and Firestorm are not just reboots of familiar properties with festive minority dressing, but really good books about young teen heroes that other DC properties are failing to do anything with. I'm actually picking this up in single issue.

Nightwing is an example of what's wrong with Didio's ability to select the correct creative team. Flash contiunes a streak a mediocry from it's pre-OYL arc, by featuring fill in level art with a set of writers who have a fantastic idea but not the ability to execute it well. Hopefully, they'll get a better artist and the writers will grow into writing funnybooks. I would shit on Face to Face, but I dropped that book after the 3rd issue. I don't think anything in the world could get me back.

Best? Checkmate. I was incredibly skeptical, but I gave it a try and it's an amazing book that works well even if you've got no previous DCU knowledge.

Worst? here are plenty of titles I didn't expect to be good, and of course Nightwing is by far the worst book DC has, but as far as being disappointed by expectation I'm gonna go with Robinson's Face the Face. The poor guy has said himself that he doesn't even know what's going on with all the continuity, but that doesn't necessarily excuse him from bad writing.

07 March 2006

NYCC Post Mortem / "Why Are You Doing This?": Identity Crisis

I was looking forward to the New York Comic Con this weekend for a number of reasons:
  • I have never been to a "big" convention and was pleased by this one's convenient location.
  • A number of friends were coming to town for the occasion.
  • I was not paying to attend, as the organizers saw fit to consider me an "educator".
  • I enjoy spectacles, especially free spectacles.

And overall I had a swell time. I got to catch up with friends, meet some new people, bought the original art to the funnybook page which gives this blog its name, and revelled in the spectacle of enormous Frank Quitely artwork, a lonely Peter Scolari, some guy paying thousands of dollars for a CGC graded copy of Hansi, the Girl who Loved the Swastika, and of course Fat Skeletor -- (the disappointing sole entry in the "fat guy superhero" stakes, though he makes up for it by having his own myspace page.)

But there was also the Saturday Debacle, which has been talked about by pretty much everyone who attended the con already. For my part, other than a ninety minute failed quest for Art School Confidential passes and a brief freeze out, it didn't really affect me terribly. But it was still vexing. I did get a kick out of overhearing harried cops get radio messages about how people were "getting out of control" near the cosplay stage and "requesting backup". I was a little less amused by not being allowed back into the building to get my coat back, or being barred from using upper-level exits, leading me to nearly kill myself while impatiently climbing up a planter-wall in order to meet my friends.

But I'm not really looking to dwell on any of that. One of the results of the Saturday Debacle and the general bustle of the con is that my low-to-moderate interest in all the trappings of the Big Time Con, from big name autographs to exciting, newsworthy panels and Q&As completely evaporated when I realized how time-consuming any of those propositions were. So I mostly skulked around looking for the low-interest obscurities I hoped to buy, talking with friends and stealing a quick conversation with the less-"of the moment" creators I liked.

But while I tried to find Blue Ribbon Digest and Lil Archie funnybooks and fawned over Douglas Rushkoff, the other, Big Time Con occured around me. I learned about it on Internet, the same as everybody else. Nothing face-meltingly exciting got announced - - but the one post-Con piece that really stuck with me was this interview/panel recap with Brad Meltzer.

Now, Brad Meltzer seems like a pretty okay guy; he's written some pretty fun character interaction in a few of his funnybooks that I've read. And he seemed like a good guy from everything I heard and saw at the DC booth. But honestly, Identity Crisis is one of the most embarassingly overrated funnybooks in recent memory.

It's a crude metaphor, but Identity Crisis to me epitomizes a recent trend of "Liefeld writing" in superhero funnybooks; like the art of Liefeld and other Image artists (and their descendents), which are heavily influenced (some would say "swiped") from other creators, this is the sort of high-impact "extreme" art that on cursory glance makes the reader say, "oh snap, that is BADASS!"

But the more you look at it, the less sense it makes. How many joints does that leg have? Why is that girl's hand the size of the stoplight she is standing next to? How can that sword even hurt someone? Can underage nymphettes really be eleven heads tall? But if you only skim through, it looks alluring and dynamic.

Identity Crisis, like a lot of event books, ends up doing this with its plot and characterization. Characters get moved like chess pieces because they need to be in positions parallel to some "classic" event the writer wishes to homage; characters behave irrationally because someone is needed to fill a slot; fights and events happen not because of any organic plot development but because they would be, in fact, badass.

Bad writing is certainly nothing new to funnybooks, and the big iconic characters have certainly endured cumulative decades of it relatively untarnished. But what sets Identity Crisis apart from your standard Infinity Crusade, Last Laugh or Secret Wars II -type crossover is the amount of attention and plaudits it has received. Identity Crisis is getting a deluxe hardcover release to bookstores, write-ups in the New York Times and other mainstream press and comparisons (at least from its publisher) to Watchmen. With that sort of attention and praise, a book like this should be held under closer scrutiny than you might More Excuses For Fightin' 2007.


Stripped to its core, the "murder mystery" side of IC goes something like this:

1. Sue Dibny, wife of JLA member Elongated Man and beloved by all superheroes, is found murdered at home, burnt to a crisp. Whoever killed her was able to evade every form of superhuman detection at the disposal of the JLA, and leaves absolutely no trace, not even on the microscopic scale of the Atom, of ever having been in the room.

2. As the heroes furiously search for Dibny's murderer, a second spouse -- Ray Palmer's (the Atom's) estranged ex-wife Jean Loring -- is nearly strangled to death but is rescued at the last moment by the Atom. Again, the killer appears and disappears without a trace.

3. As frustration and fear mounts amongst the heroes, a third loved one, Robin's father Jack Drake receives a note matching the established handwriting of the murderer appears alongside a gun, suggesting that Drake "protect himself". Meanwhile the murderer anonymously contacts the Calculator, a villainous information dealer so well-hidden not even Batman can track him down, and hires Captain Boomerang for a hit.

4. Captain Boomerang, a washed-up small-time crook who bragged to friends that the Drake murder would "put him on the map", bursts through the door loudly announcing his murderous intensions. Drake shoots Boomerang in the chest right as he throws a razor-tipped boomerang (his trademark) into Drake's own chest. Both are dead as the heroes arrive.

5. The heroes decide that Captain Boomerang must have been Sue Dibny's murderer, and the person who tried to murder Loring. They appear to cease investigations of how Boomerang was able to evade detection, knew the identities of heroes' loved ones, or chose to commit the third criminal act in such a brazenly identifying manner. Things return to normal.

6. In a shocking twist worth of Encylopedia Brown, a reunited Atom and Jean Loring discuss the recent string of murders as they prepare to have sex. Loring asks the Atom if anyone figured out who sent the gun to Jack Drake. And yet... only a few select JLA members knew of this mysterious gun... who else would know about the gun but THE PERSON WHO SENT THE GUN. And if her handwriting matches the murderer's... why... JEAN LORING WAS THE MURDERER ALL ALONG!

This in itself is certainly not high art, but it's not abjectly terrible. (Okay, maybe it is.) But like I said, the closer you look the less sense it makes.

Take for instance, Jean Loring's motive, an important aspect of any murder mystery. The motive, as it turns out, is that she is CRAZY. At some point Jean decided that she wished to reunite with her ex-husband, the Atom. Bear in mind that, as established in their first scenes in IC, Jean dumped the Atom, but he still carries a torch for her. The logical thing to do here would be to ask the Atom out on a date, or otherwise directly initiate a relationship. But Jean is crazy. She has a different plan in mind.

Jean decides that fear is what brings people closer. So logically, if she makes the superhero community afraid that their loved ones will die, then this will bring her and Ray closer together. She decides to manufacture this fear by borrowing one of the Atom's suits and "giving a scare" to someone who is apparently one of her closest friends, Sue Dibny. Jean's plan is to shrink down to microscopic size, ride the phone lines into Sue's ear and then poke around in Sue's brain. This is apparently exceedingly easy to do if you have one of the Atom's suits lying around your house.
Don't misunderstand, Jean does not want to poke at Sue's brain to kill her, just to... cripple her? Give her a stroke? It's never explained. But it wasn't "murder" per se. However, it turns out that untrained tiny people walking around on people's brain is fatal. Sue Dibny dies.

Luckily, Jean was prepared for this eventuality, and brought along a flamethrower "just in case." In case of what isn't really discussed, but regardless she grows to full size and torches Sue's corpse and much of her kitchen, while speaking the words, "Goodbye, Sue." None of this is picked up by the incredibly advanced security, surveilance and energy tracking devices we are told are can detect shapeshifters, teleportation, invisibility, even microscopic intruders.

Of course, we're later told by Mister Miracle, previously established Security Expert, that if things were microscopic, there would be no trace. "It makes perfect sense!" Miracle assures the reader, even though the Atom (whose suit was used) was one of the superhero CSI guys, so things were checked on a microscopic level. There is also the matter that Jean Loring grew to full size, walked around in the kitchen, somehow produced a flamethrower and used it on the kitchen while hysterically apologizing to Sue. None of this happened on a microscopic level, and yet no trace was left. But c'mon guys, it's Mister Miracle. He said it makes sense!

To be fair though, I think all the security stuff was supposed to be a red herring, to really sucker-punch you when you realize the danger was at home all along. Meltzer is apparently a big fan of women shockingly betraying their loved ones. In an essay in Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers, Meltzer describes how at fourteen, Terra of The New Teen Titans was "the first girl to break [his] heart" when it is revealed that she was betraying the Titans to aid their nemesis Deathstroke.

Meltzer says that Titans creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez did "the one thing neither Marvel nor DC ever had the balls to do-- they kept [the "betraying hero"] as a villain and they slaughtered her... I hope they know how much that decision affected me as a writer."

If Perez or Wolfman read Identity Crisis, they would know how much that decision affected him as a writer. Meltzer even recycles his metaphor of how female betrayal feels -- both young-Meltzer and the Atom feel "their stomach sink down to my testicles" when they learn of their ladylove's treachery. I'm told that a similar lying, betraying WHOR... er, young lady shows up in The First Counsel, one of Meltzer's best-selling novels. No word on the status of Counsel's protagonist's testicles, though.

The "no trace of the killer" red herring is far from the only non-sensical distraction in the book. Ignoring the fact that in addition to being able to evade security systems, suburban lawyer Jean Loring was also able to contact the Calculator, who is so secretive and elusive and "deep" in the supervillain community that not even Batman can track him down. It's also sort of unusual that the estranged ex-wife of a b-list Justice Leaguer would know the identity of the "new" Robin (Tim Drake), who did not take the mantle until well after Loring and Palmer divorced.

The fact that the killer knew Tim Drake's secret identity, which after the death of Jason Todd (the previous Robin), Batman forces Tim to keep so closely guarded that not even some of his Teen Titans teammates were allowed to know, along with their apparent deep connections to the criminal underworld, led people to speculate on who might be the killer. Ha ha, surprise, those clues were meaningless!

Jean Loring also had the tremendous dumb red-herring luck of incinerating Sue Dibny's corpse -- honestly, how many middle aged lawyers do you know that keep flamethrowers lying around? The burning led the JLA to suspect Doctor Light was the murderer, who unbeknownst to Loring or anyone else had brutally raped Sue Dibny some time ago. I suppose it stands to reason that most rapists like to wait a decade or so to come back and set their victims on fire; I am not a criminal psychologist. But anyway, lucky stroke on the part of Jean, really took the heat off her and onto Light, who immediately sought the best protection money could buy from a vengeful Justice League, even though he had not committed the murder and had been brainwashed into forgetting his old-tyme raping ways. No idea why he thought he'd be accused of the murder, but man, what a lucky stroke, and what a red herring!

Even luckier was when Jean chose to fake her own attempted murder by hanging. Loring used a "bowline knot with dutch marine twist", which just so happened to be the exact same knot that supervillain Slipknot used when he would hang people. And by another amazing stroke of luck, both of the supervillains that Loring accidentally framed were former members of the Suicide Squad. She was also lucky that the Atom was able to, by stroke of luck, arrive at her apartment through the phone line mere seconds before she would've died from her self-hanging. This was pretty lucky, but not as lucky as the Atom mysteriously showing up thirty minutes late for a legal meeting with her. The meeting was scheduled for exactly the time of the murder.

In case this doesn't sink in for you, Jean Loring schedules a legal appointment with her ex-husband, a superhero. She then proceeds to use the ex-husband's superpowered costume to shrink down to microscopic size and attempts to "scare" one of her friends, leading to accidental death and incineration of the corpse. She does this at the precise time she has previously agreed to meet her ex-husband. Lucky for her, she returns, cleans up the evidence of her murder and manages to make it back to be waiting impatiently for the Atom when he shows up thirty minutes late, using the same powers and phone line that she used at the same time he was expected to show up to go murder one of their friends. That is some amazing luck!

Anyway, the point is, the more you look at the plot and events of Identity Crisis -- and when a story is a critically acclaimed mystery, people tend to look pretty closely -- the more nonsensical it becomes. I'm not even going to get into some of the other ridiculous red herrings -- characters who show up briefly just to be included as suspects then wander off into other funnybooks, a huge "mindwipe" subplot that served no apparent purpose but to set up three years of angst in other comic books, or the the fact that in this story of momentous import about the shocking deaths of people, Meltzer feels the need to constantly reference the fact that in the DC Universe you're capable of having a murder mystery where it seems like half of the cast have died and come back to the land of the living.

I understand that the cost of doing a story with superheroes in a shared universe is that they all have a lot of baggage, but just because Superman, Green Arrow, Hal Jordan and others die and come back from the dead doesn't mean you need to mention it all the time. Or pick apparently extraneous supervillain characters who have to be resurrected for their throwaway bits in the series. Or have characters quipping about how Donna Troy can't possibly stay dead, or that Hal Jordan is surely "working on something" to come back to life, two predictions that came true within a year of publication. At that point you are asking people to recognize how transient and unmomentous death is in superhero comics.

But I really didn't mean to catalog all of the already known problems with Identity Crisis today, I wanted to talk about this interview from the Comic Con, in which Didio and Meltzer discuss their goals and themes w/r/t IC, which really add a whole new layer of failure to this book.

Here's one quote:

"When you think of firefighters after 9/11, you look at them differently... [it] made people realize that firefighters weren’t just the guys pulling cats out of trees and marching in parades, they were heroes doing an extremely dangerous job where their lives were on the line every day."

Okay, this is a theme you could write a superhero comic about, no doubt. It's just that this superhero comic would not be Identity Crisis. Because to extend the metaphor, what 9/11 taught Brad Meltzer is that sometimes firefighters' wives go crazy and start killing the wives and parents of firefighters, trying to blame it on arsonists or terrorists when it's really just a crazy wife trying to get back together with the firefighter she divorced because he was too dedicated to firefighting. I have to admit, this is an interesting theory. I have yet to see any 9/11 conspiracy theories that implicate the regretful ex-wives of FDNY members.

But this isn't neccesarily Meltzer's fault; current DC Executive Editor Dan Didio apparently dictated to Meltzer that Jean Loring would end up killing Sue Dibny. It was just up to Meltzer, best-selling mystery/thriller writer to figure out the how and why part of the story, since the key plot points hadalready been editorially decreed, apparently a popular trend at DC.

Spake Meltzer: “I’m not scared by a guy who can throw a building at me... that’s never gonna happen. I’m scared by the guy who spends ten days plotting for ten days to put a bullet in the back of my head.” This is again, a nice philosophy, if you ignore the fact that the core tragedy of Identity Crisis doesn't involve any sort of pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder. Plus it involves super powers. So I am wondering if perhaps the reporter at CBR is quoting him out of context, perhaps about one of his other stories.

He also pointed out how he did not kill several of the characters that he was told were editorially expendible, such as the Atom or Martian Manhunter. "It would have been a cheap ploy," he said, presumably because killing off a more obscure character in a Cheap Ploy Perfect Storm -- she was a saint, improbably adored by literally everyone, a victim of rape, an expectant mother and was murdered by someone who accidentally framed her innocent rapist that behaved in a suspicious manner that was completely nonsensical seeing as he was innocent -- the thought of adding any more cheap ploys to a book already brimming with cliche sentimental appeals and completely illogical red herrings might have been too much for the reader to handle.

Regardless, I didn't realize that it was possible to make Identity Crisis an even greater storytelling failure than I already considered it, but apparently it managed to thwart even authorial intent. It's truly a remarkable artifact, but probably not one people should be pushing to the general reading audience if they want people to change their minds about funnybooks being nonsensical juvenile crap.

04 March 2006

"What's My Motivation?" Now Up at SBC

SilverBulletComics.com has put up the piece that until recently was here, and in the spirit of getting as many people as possible to read it at that site, I've decided to pull it off here and just give you a link.

Here is that link.


Then jump on their forums and talk about it or something, I don't know.

Some Bullshit About Love: Still Better Than Tie-Ins

Well, February's over, it's still damn cold, and DC is in full event swing, while Marvel is gearing up for another one. Both companies have already announced their intentions to keep at it into the future -- Marvel's Planet Hulk/Annihilation/Civil War trifecta is the middle chapter to a three year plan they've hinted at, and DC's already announced a new $1, 80-page, loss-leader comic for the summer. The last time something like that happened was, well, last summer. And it kicked off Infinite Crisis. So even though I'll buy the book, because A.J. Lieberman and Al Barrionuevo are too good to pass up as a team, even if there are other writers and artists on it we haven't been told about yet, I'm wary -- and weary -- of another event so soon after the IC clusterfuck.

But even in this silly storm of tie-ins and event minis and crazy bombastic "breaking the internet in half" declarations, there are some comics you can read just for themselves, without having to buy five other titles. For example, to celebrate February and Valentine's Day and all that mess, Marvel put out the I Heart Marvel books, a collection of one shots or anthologies that tried to bring a romantic twist to the superheroes in the Marvel universe, with predictably mixed success; not everyone's cut out to write a romance comic.

Web of Romance #1 - This one was written by Tony Bedard with art from Cory Walker, Cliff Rathburn, and Matt Milla, and it was surprisingly good. The dialogue flowed very well, the characterization was spot on for all of the characters Bedard put into the story, and he even managed to work in some reflection on that oh-so-central issue of Gwen Stacey vs. Mary Jane, and didn't even have to invent hyper-aged clone children to do it! The art fit the piece well, and overall it's well worth the purchase price; depending on how it's collected, it may even be worth the price of the trade for this story alone.

Marvel AI #1 - Not as strong, but still decent. All of three of the stories in this book were written by C.B. Cebulski; the conceit here was that AI is the Japanese word for love, and therefore all the artists on these stories were Japanese; Tomoko Taniguchi on "Meld with You," Key Kobayashi on "Silence of the Heart," and toga on "Love is Blindness." The first story, "Meld with You," was a story about Wanda and Vision's first date, and it was competent enough. The concept is the fairly standard "robot/alien/outsider to the prevailing culture learns about love from a book, interprets advice wrong, and makes a mess of things" plot, but it's only a seven page story -- not too much else was necessary. I didn't like the art, but I'm not a big fan of the style. The second story, "Silence of the Heart," was the strongest of the three, dealing with the Inhuman Black Bolt and his wife. The writing is solid and conveys the silence in the relationship, and the art is in a sort of nice, subdued style that works very well. The third story, "Love is Blindness," is pretty terrible; the art is too cutesy and the story is basically just a catfight. There's no dialogue, which works in some very limited cases (such as the previous story), but it doesn't work here, and the substitute for dialogue in the form of crude pictorials gets annoying. Overall, a mixed bag, but cute enough.

My Mutant Heart #1 - Even more of a mixed bag than the last issue. Three more stories, with the common theme being mutants. The first story is a Wolverine story by Daniel Way. Daniel Way? Really? They couldn't find anyone else to write a romance comic but Daniel "Hey guys, I'd be worried about your nerdy ass concerns about my MAX run on Ant-Man, but I'm too busy fucking bitches and doing lines of coke off of strippers" Way? And Wolverine, of all characters? I'm sure a good romance comic can be done with Wolverine, but not by Daniel Way. And surprise, surprise, his story is terrible. Ken Knudtson's art doesn't help any, but the banal plotting is hardly his fault. Way only gives us little bits and pieces of a traditional NAZIS ARE EVIL AND KILL EVERYONE BECAUSE THEY ARE EVIL story involving Wolverine -- yes, the Nazis were evil, but when you reduce them to ridiculous caricatures that just shoot their own agents because they're evil and that's how Nazis do things, you're missing the point. The Nazis were real evil, not cartoon evil. Putting that aside, Way only really gives us half a story with no explanations and no real reason for reading it, and perhaps this is supposed to be mistaken for clever storytelling, but really it's just pointless. And frankly, I've had enough of Wolverine vs. the Nazis recently. Thanks, Mark and Dan.

Luckily, the second story is a marked improvement. Peter Millgan writes a P.I.-investigating-an-affair story with a twist that I don't feel like spoiling here, but everything about this story -- which involves Doop from Milligan's X-Statix run -- calls back images of the old romance comics from back in the day; the artist, Marcos Martin, gives it a really old school look that few artists are doing these days outside of Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred, and Milligan's story is set up a lot like some of those comics. When it veers off course, it's not in a biting parody of the old comics, but a gentle twist on them. Overall, a very good story. Makes up for the one immediately before it.

The last story, written and drawn by Tim Fish, involves the mutant Cannonball and is entirely forgettable. The art is decent but a bit unpolished, the storyline is eh, and all in all it's nice filler, but I don't really care about anything that happens in it. Perhaps if the narrative weren't so blatant about forcing the reader through the story -- the captions explaining what's going on in the story on panel are too breathless and too long, and overall get in the way of the characters interacting. It feels like a Cliff Notes version of a longer comic. Then again, Fish didn't have much room to work with, and it's not bad. It's just not good. All in all, you get a very good story, a very bad story, and a very neutral story from this issue. It could be worse.

Masked Intentions #1 - This was a slight bit of fresh air, I suppose. Both stories in this were written by Fabian Nicieza; the first one, "First Kiss," had art from Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco, and A. Street. It involved Speedball and Squirrel Girl and was, uh, kind of pointless. I like Speedball and all, but he doesn't really do much of anything, and Squirrel Girl, who's the main focus of the story, plays far, far too hard into the "obsessed teenage girl" archetype that really it's not very interesting. And not too believable either. I picked this up mainly for Speedball, since he's not going to be around too much longer, and his completely secondary role in the entire affair was somewhat disappointing.

The second story, "Last Date," is the breath of fresh air I was referring to. The art's done by Mike Norton, Don Hillstreet, and A. Street on colors again, and as the name of the story implies, it's about the end of a relationship, not the beginning or continuation of one. It's the only story in this entire collection that was both tolerable to read and didn't have a happy ending. The story involves Justice and Firestar, who you may or may not remember from their appearances in something or other (obviously, I fall into the "may not" catagory). Nicieza's writing is much stronger here, and manages to actually capture people acting like people, instead of playing out silly archetypes, like in the previous story. Probably the third best story of the lot, next to Milligan's Doop story and Web of Romance.

All in all, a nice little themed line for the month of February. Some good stuff, some bad stuff, some stuff that was in the middle; I'd either pick it up in collection, or just grab Web of Romance and Masked Intentions if you see the singles lying around. They're good standalone stories that don't require a ton of backreading or future investment to get into, which is more than you can say for your Civil War tie-ins and your Infinite Crisis sprawl.

02 March 2006

In the darkest hour...a hero will come...

Well, actually, this is a pretty damn good time for comics, longstanding structural problems notwithstanding. Independent work, whether highbrow or "new mainstream" has flowered; manga is cheap and plentiful. Even the big superhero publishers manage to publish good work now and then in between the massive clusterfuck events. But even if comics doesn't need a prophet or a messiah, it always has room for more idiots with blogs and now we're some of them. I don't want to talk a lot about the mainstream stuff here, either drooling over it or bashing it. There will be some snark occasionally, yes, but not all aimed at superheroes, and I don't want it to consume everything. I intend to focus positively on good comics, wherever they come from, especially certain indie creators and manga (between myself and a couple other folks here we should at least have a decent coverage of the latter). I'll also hopefully be talking about broader trends and issues in the medium; such as that whole "breaking in" kick, which I'm currently working hard on myself (tip: just start making comics!). Most importantly, I will of course continue posting silly shit like the picture above.

Like another guy who'll be blogging here, my name is Chris. If this ever confuses you, just remember that he is much more caustic and belligerent. Also older, lives in NYC instead of Toronto, etc.

01 March 2006

Crisis Insane Character Motivation Speculation #943 - Superboy Prime

Have you been reading The Crisis?

I know you have. You have to. The storyline represents 30% of the direct market at this point and time. Some of it has been good. Some of it has been bad. Most of it has been confusing, particularly the motivations of heroes and villains alike.

I shouldn't be spoiling anything for you since Didio expects you, just like me, to be up to date.

The motivations of Superman E2 have been consistent from the start. He's upset with the nature of Earth 1. He wants to save his love Lois Lane. He's ready to change things back to his way. He feels he represents something better. I can get behind that.

Alexander Luthor's motivations have been somewhat vague from the start. His true plan is unrevealed but the driving force behind his actions is his Luthorian Ancestry. Seeing what happened to Superboy, it's only a matter of time before the Luthor genes turn you evil. A little shaky but it makes sense.

Superboy Prime's motivations have been left incredibly unclear. He doesn't have an evil ancestry and in fact has a golden pinnacle to look up to. Why has he decided to stand on the wrong side of the angels?

In the grand tradition of Comic Book Shop Speculation, I attempted to rationalize why this is so. I thought this out and I realize why Superboy Prime and Alex Luthor are so close and why Prime trusts Alexander.

Superboy Prime has grown up under the shadow of Superman due to his name. Once he developed powers and met Superman, that desire became full blown.

But why does he fight against this nature? Why does he do horrible acts of near genocide knowing what it will reap? Why does Alexander Luthor reveal intimate details of his nefarious plan to him? The writing of IC has led me to believe the answer to these questions is that Superboy Prime is a closet homosexual engaged in a relationship with Alex Luthor!

Think about it, Prime is loyal to Luthor to a fault, ready to follow his every whim and command. He will do anything Luthor asks of him without question. He also shouts every few pages about how he wants to be Superman when he grows up. Superman represents the ideal hero, white, male and straight.

He hates Superboy not because he's squandering his superhero abilities, but because he's in a straight relationship with Wonder Girl. Superboy is basically throwing away a straight lifestyle that SBP would (as shown) kill for. Superboy Prime desires to be "normal". He can never have that life so he lashes out violently at the world in which he is forced to be only a spectator.

This dichotomy of wanting to be straight but in love with Alex Luthor, his first true homosexual partner, is what causes Superboy Prime to go crazy. His only enjoyment is doing something that stands against all he should be. This is why his moral system is so collapsed. He can smash planets together killing millions, but its wrong to kill one hero.

This is why he can despise a universe of heroes who have gone "dark" even though the actions he engages in are "dark" themselves. Shit, his sexual frustration at not being able to reveal his true nature has slipped into the DC universe, altering and birthing the dark things that he is angry about.

Among the questions I have been asking myself is why I am I entering into such ridiculous speculation to understand the character's motivation? Why has this character that we have barely seen before committing acts that are against everything he and his idol stand for?

Truthfully, it’s the only way that I can continue on to read the story. I have to invent insane conclusions to reconcile the missing pieces of the story. Johns is doing a very weak job of explaining why people are doing the things they are doing. I don't know if it’s the nature of his storytelling or the nature of an expansive crossover event, but as a reader I find it quite annoying that after nearly a year of story telling, I am not that much closer to understanding why the villains of the tale are doing what they do. It's not really my job to explain their motivations. It's obviously the writer's.

Dan Slott once asked that we as readers work around the occasional story mistake, the minor plot holes that have little to no bearing on the story itself. I'm prepared to do that. I'm prepared to overlook every silly story where someone who has been trapped someplace and could have easily used cellphone technology to call for help. I'm ready to ignore someone appearing in two places at once in two different comic books. Dan Didio is right about that, in many cases it's bad to let a previous bad story element ruin a potentially good story.

But when character motivations are just tossed out without little logical reasoning, how much am I expected to let slip by? How crazy are my speculations supposed to get before I begin to question the writer and the editor? Crisis is reaching my breaking point on this one and I'm happy that today, the last pre-One Year Later issue is being released. I couldn't take one more month of contemplating who was on the top or bottom.

28 February 2006

Wizard, the CGC, and You: How Comic Grading Is Sending the Industry Towards A Second Cardiac Arrest

As you are here I’m going to assume you have an e-mail address, and if the e-mails are to be believed you have a forty foot long penis and you're fucking hot underage girls hopped up on free herbal medicine while staring at the diplomas on your wall that would make you legally qualified to be God. You may also have noticed that you have received offers from many members of the Nigerian royal family, and that you become a transferrer, if you choose to accept the deal, you will soon be filthy rich.

Of course this is run by the Nigerian mafia, and if you follow this scam you will end up losing all your money, and if you fly to Nigeria you will be brutally beaten and/or murdered after landing. Or you will become one of those guys who believe it wasn’t a scam and give money over and over hoping it was some kind of error, becoming more desperate hoping to get some money back before you end up sucking cock for beer money.

Welcome to the land of the scam.

What any of this has to do with comics is quite simple: comic grading is a scam and a throwback to a dumber time in comics; namely, the extreme and investor filled nineties. It is a well documented story how many people invested in comics after the realisation that classic comics were worth thousands of dollars, the highest being Action Comics #1 which can go for $1000000 with the right buyer, and that this was an untapped market of wealth. So the industry started releasing more and more alternate covers which served two purposes: get the limited edition covers that would be worth a fortune in a few years and to boost comic sales. Of course, as we now know, the reason those other comics were worth so much is that there was a demand for those comics because they were so rare, old and iconic. Once the boom died the comic industry was nearly flatlining and it was a very dark time for publishers.

Luckily the comic industry managed to keep itself a steady low heartbeat and has been slowly building its empire from the ashes of the ninety boom with, strangely enough, a good supply of actual good stories instead of relying on pretty art which goes hand in hand with the emphasis nowadays being on who writes the story rather than who draws it.

This is where Wizard comes in and proceeds to fuck everything up.

If you bother to read beyond the Wizard articles in the monthly magazine (hint: don’t) you will find that nearly half of its 100+ pages are a comics price guide. Now there have been many articles written on how this guide is flawed on a fundamental level, but I won’t go into that now. I want to point your attention to the thing that that section spends most of its time plugging: "CGC-ing," or comic grading.

Wizard owns the CGC, so it’s easy to understand why they want people to use it, and it kind of makes sense: have your comics graded against other issues to see which is the best. For example if you own a Spider-Man #1 and yours is a 7.9 and someone else’s is a 3.2, you'll be able to sell yours at a higher price than he will be able to sell his. Sounds good right? Well that’s where the good ends, because Wizard have instead changed it to grading any comic, to the point where through Wizard you can order comics to go from the publisher straight to CGC to be graded. Now what I’m getting at is that they are grading things straight from the publisher, irrelevant of what they are and as Wizard shows it can boost the price by 1000% versus the recommended retail price! Think that Green Arrow issue is worth cover price? Hell no try $72 if it’s a CGC of 9.0-10, and as it’s going straight from the publisher to CGC, chances are you are investing in the big time money booster.

If you can’t see the problem I’ll spell it out: it’s the nineties all over again.

Boosting the prices of comics that are not noteworthy, rare or have any other significant detail that can alter the price is a return to the same thing that killed the industry in the nineties. To just add economics to this, the exact problem is this: there is no buyer. In a market you need a buyer for the comic otherwise the grading is just a pretty box around your comic that prevents you from reading it.

Who, really, wants to own a CGC rating of 9.8 NYX? Not even #1… #3. http://www.cgccomics.com/gallery/details.asp?IDComic=2075 to see for yourself.

To extend this even more take the recent New Avengers #1, which even I will admit is a collectable. Think about this: signing boosts a price, but as most comics readers these days go to cons, especially those with an interest in comic grading, can get Bendis to sign it there. Rarity? Sure they may run out of the printing of #1 but these days the real money is to be made in trade paper back sales, especially with the fact that Bendis likes to tell his stories over several issues with each issue being a chapter to a greater whole. Even then demand for a comic means they will reprint second, third of forth printings (probably with alternate covers) so the ones who really want an issue can get it then. This of course leads to grading in which the quality of the issue is graded and then placed in a plastic box to prevent evil human hands from touching them (the best gradings go to issues that haven’t been touched by humanity, so it’s not odd for people to buy two issues: one to read, and one to grade). Of course why stop there? Buy every printing and grade those too, the alternate covers are collectable now and if you get them all signed you’re in the money.

Of course everyone else is too, so you are once again left without a buyer.

So we have alternate covers, buying of multiple copies boosting sales, and people paying for a service that appears to make their comics worth a lot more than the cover price, when in fact all they are doing is losing money to the graders. If this continues, it will truly be the nineties all over again, this time with a heart attack the industry may not recover from.

Except Avatar Press, they can continue printing as many alternate covers as they like. If I don't get twelve versions of the same issue of Brian Pullido's Lady Death every week I get the shakes.