Archive for the ‘ Comics ’ Category

Vertigo Comics Capsule Reviews

Karen Berger recently announced that she would step down as the editor of Vertigo, the comics imprint she has shepherded since its creation. At first, I wasn’t too concerned about this: Two decades is a long time to stay at one job, and she could have plenty of reasons to move on. We don’t know the story behind the scenes, though, and I find myself getting progressively more worried. With Hellblazer ending at issue #300, and shocking realization that that is the longest-running continually-numbered series being published by DC or Marvel today, it’s obvious that change is in the air for the big companies. Vertigo’s monthly sales numbers haven’t been healthy in a long time, and it has apparently justified its existence by finding the occasional hit that keeps selling in book format. But with superhero movies now bringing in more money than book sales could ever promise, and with TV and video game tie-ins defining more of the low-end market, Vertigo’s niche may no longer make sense to the executives.

No matter what happens, though, it’s clear that Berger’s legacy goes well beyond Vertigo. When the label started, intelligent adult comics seemed like an aberration. Now, titles like that are everywhere. In fact, the scene has grown so much that Vertigo’s specific style of literate fantasy now feels like just another niche.

While looking over the latest Vertigo series that I’ve read, I noticed some definite trends. These stories tend to be based around high concepts and rich settings, but the plots often feel like afterthoughts. Whether this is indicative of the imprint’s editorial leanings, or just a coincidence, I’m not entirely sure. Either way, though, there is still some very good stuff coming out from Vertigo. I hope that we don’t lose it.

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Webcomics: Scenes From A Multiverse

SFAM panelThough Scenes From A Multiverse started a few months too early for me to discuss on this blog, I probably don’t need to explain what it is: Jon Rosenberg of Goats ditched that comic’s convoluted story and just started writing new jokes in different settings (“destinations”) every day. From kitten holes to dungeon divers, his Mulitverse is full of fresh character designs and hilarious ideas. Rosenberg’s sense of humor can be offensive, as any reader of Goats knows, and he isn’t afraid to wade into political or religious topics, but as long as that doesn’t turn you away, SFAM is one of the best webcomics out there.

It’s almost a shame that Rosenberg jumps between topics so quickly, because every couple weeks he has an idea that would be worth a long-running daily strip. And that’s where SFAM’s original gimmick came in: The plan was for Rosenberg to post five strips each week, and over the weekend readers would vote on a “repeat destination” to visit again the following week. Any destination that won five times would be retired until there were enough winners to vote on one for a focused, week-long story. That brings me to the reason for this article, because last month Rosenberg announced that the weekly votes would end.

I can see why he did it. Almost every time, the latest winner would be chosen again, meaning that new winners could only appear every five weeks when there was no reigning incumbent. And since ending the voting and letting his own muse take control, Rosenberg has done some great work with those Dungeon Diver characters. On the other hand, I do miss the votes. The feeling of participation was a lot of fun (even if I almost always voted against the incumbent, and therefore lost regularly), and I enjoyed the unpredictability that came from Rosenberg coming up with follow-ups to something that had been planned a one-off joke. The quality of the comic has increased slightly in the past month, but my interest has decreased slightly.

And that brings me to my humble suggestion. As a board game player, I know that there are lots and lots of systems out there; The choice isn’t just between the previous voting system and none at all. Once we’ve identified the problem, we can find a solution. My preference would be to structure each week with three new destinations and two repeats. With two winners every week, it would be much easier for a good new idea to win a chance for a repeat, and the people who always vote for the incumbent would be divided and therefore weakened. There are so many good comics that having more repeats would feel like a fulfillment of potential, and I think it would actually be more fun to see additional ideas being developed over time. (It’s good that we don’t have a story as involved as Goats had, but a little more continuity won’t hurt anything here.)

Will this happen? Probably not. I should have brought this up this before Rosenberg made his choice, not afterwards. But this was a big change to one of the best webcomics out there, so I think it deserves some discussion.

The End of Amazing Spider-Man (Comic Review)

(Based on issues #674-700, along with the “Ends of the Earth” special and issues #679.1 and 699.1.)

cover to Amazing Spider-Man #700

Amazing Spider-Man

Like a moving target, serialized stories can be difficult to review. I wrote a draft review of recent Amazing Spider-Man issues a couple months ago, but never got around to finishing it. At the time, I was frustrated with the way Dan Slott’s run seemed to be slowly losing steam, and very disappointed by the recent “Ends of the Earth” event. But with issue #700, Amazing ended its fifty-year run with a much more conclusive story than most heroes ever get. Now that I have a finished story to look at, it feels much stronger.

This isn’t supposed to be a review of the entire “Big Time” era of Spider-Man (I looked at issues starting with #648 here, and the following “Spider-Island” event next), nor is it supposed to be a review just of the ending. However, due to the nature of long-running stories, both of those weigh heavily over the selection I actually am reviewing here. Dan Slott’s slightly-over-fifty-issue solo run (coming on the heels of “Brand New Day”, his hundred-issue collaboration) was written with the confidence that he would have time to plan out and develop a long-running story. In an era where most creative teams get shuffled around within a year, this is a rare thing. And while most of these comics were structured as two-to-six-issue arcs, in retrospect it’s easy to see one long story winding through them. The half of “Big Time” being looked at here is pretty clearly “cleaning up” many of the changes that Slott had implemented, but also sets up the final act of an epic Doctor Octopus story after which “nothing will ever be the same”.

This truly may be the rare case in which changes stick. Slott has always shown a strong appreciation of the things that made Spider-Man great, and he caps off the Amazing era with the same humanity, melodrama, and colorful supporting characters as ever. It’s an appropriate conclusion, and those last few issues were exciting (and a little scary) with the reader knowing only that something important was about to change.

(I do worry that the new status quo may be difficult to keep going for long, and if it falls apart it threatens to undo the solid closing of this story. However, I will refrain from reviewing comics that haven’t come out yet.)

That’s not to say that there weren’t missteps, though. I already mentioned that “Ends of the Earth” was a disappointment: Spider-Man is thrown in to a world-wide crisis with no buildup or sense of scale, so it never feels more important than his usual races across New York. He stays awake for days trying to keep up with the bad guys, but the story jumps so quickly that none of that sacrifice is seen. And despite its alleged significance, the resolution hinges on a few standard battles with his usual foes. The “Ends of the Earth Special” released alongside this is a mostly plot-free story of C-list heroes rushing into battle at his side, and usually dying without accomplishing anything. It’s depressing and cynical, especially since one plot point has Spider-Man threatening to torture a prisoner for information.  (He says afterwards he was bluffing, but Peter should know that threatening prisoners with torture is a form of psychological torture.)

Mostly, though, these were fun stories. Classic villains like the Vulture update themselves again, mind-controlling robots infest a space station, and so on. One of the strongest stories was “No Turning Back”, which brought a somewhat decisive (and tragic) conclusion to long-simmering plots about The Lizard and Morbius. Humberto Ramos pencilled as much of this as the bimonthly schedule would allow, and I’ve finally come to accept his slightly exaggerated style as appropriate to the action-packed soap opera that is Spider-Man. It’s the little character threads that developed throughout these mostly stand-alone stories that make Spider-Man work.

Spider-Man internal

After such a long time on the character, there were signs that Slott was slowing down. The past year was spent much more in wrap-up mode than presenting new ideas. (The only recent new character introduced recently, the super-powerful but irresponsible “Alpha”, was uninteresting. As with the lack of drama in “Ends of the Earth”, the comic simply told us that Alpha was powerful and important without ever demonstrating it believably.) However, this still closed on a very strong note: While juggling many plots smoothly, Slott ended with true surprises that slid under the media’s radar, and gave us all the impression that he was wrapping it up on his terms.

Grade: B

 

First Looks At DC’s New 52: The Third Wave

Finally, here are my First Looks at the new comics I started reading from DC’s “third wave” of recent releases. These launched in September, conveniently coinciding with DC’s month of 0-numbered issues, so they could provide a simple introduction right away. In fact, the month was structured that way at least in part to help promote these new comics, which seems like a lot of effort to go to for just four new series. Despite DC’s efforts, though, the rumors I’ve heard are that some of them are pretty much dead on arrival. There will be a couple successes from the new launches, but it seems that fans are only trying the ones tied to big-name characters or events. Those early days of the New 52, in which obscure characters and ideas actually had a shot, may be over.

After writing sixteen other comic reviews this week already, this article will be mercifully short. I have only been reading two of the four new series. Unless new titles deserving a First Look appear soon, I’ll probably wait about a year after this before I check back on the DC Universe.

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First Looks At DC’s New 52: The Second Wave

Earlier this week, I reviewed all the DC titles that I’ve been reading since the “New 52” launched last year. But as the company has cancelled some titles, they’ve started new replacements. Today, I’m reviewing the three “second wave” titles that I tried out, and tomorrow I’ll catch up on the third wave.

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Checking In With DC’s “New 52” (Part 2)

This is the conclusion to my reviews of the DC comics that started last year. Note that I’m not yet reviewing Animal Man, Swamp Thing, or Frankenstein, as I want to wait for them to finish their ongoing “Rotworld” epic.

Again, each comic title before the reviews links you back to the initial reviews I did at the six-month mark for the title.

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Checking In With DC’s “New 52” (Part 1)

Back in February, DC Comics’ “New 52” initiative reached its sixth month, and I reviewed all the series I was reading. Ten months later, it’s time to check in again.

From a branding standpoint, this continues to be a success. Almost all series have stuck to a reliable monthly schedule, and even though DC has cancelled several, they’ve added replacements to keep the focus on a consistent “52” rather than on the individual failures. This is much higher than the number of series that DC was publishing beforehand, and quite a few obscure characters have found success under this system.

From a creative point of view, the results are more mixed. Superhero comics are often hobbled by the attitude of “everything’s new, but don’t worry because we still have everything you used to love!” Once the newness of the first few issues faded away, it became obvious that few of the series actually had new ideas. I’m still reading more than I used to, since the monthly schedule and steady $3 price point (or $4 for extra-long titles) are much better than what Marvel is providing these days, but I doubt I would miss half of these if I stopped buying them.

September provided a perfect example of the challenges that come from mixing a corporate initiative with individual projects. The company put off the thirteenth issues of every series to provide a “zero month”, with stories from the past of each character. Some series had excellent issues that month, while others had an arbitrary interruption to their ongoing stories. It did attract attention (especially with the eye-catching covers that featured the heroes bursting through the image that was on their issue #1), but my interest still hasn’t returned since that bump in the momentum.

While I haven’t kept up on the worst of the series I reviewed back in February, I read at least the next few issues of most of them. I’m going to review all of those again over the next two days. Because there are so many, I plan on keeping these reviews especially brief, more like additions to the original reviews (which can be found by following the links in each heading). Later in the week, I’ll take closer looks at some of the series that have started since then.

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