Tag Archives: comics

What’s Really Costing Marvel Sales?

For those of you who aren’t aware, Marvel Comics recently came under fire when VP David Gabriel, made a statement about their sales slump being the result of having “too much diversity.” Because readers just don’t want to hear about women and people of colour. He has since retracted the statement due to the understandable backlash. 

So, what’s really to blame for the lack of sales? Well, as someone who used to buy Marvel comics , let me try and provide some insight into why they lost my money and, I’d wager, quite a few other people’s. 

1.) Consistent Editorially Mandated Events

Remember when company wide events were incredibly rare to the point where you might have one a decade? Remember when those events were basically relegated to their own mini-series and every comic wasn’t dedicated to tie in material? Well, I’m old so I do. I also miss those times. And that’s one of the big reasons I stopped buying Marvel comics. Writers are constantly having the story arcs they’re doing disrupted so that the comics they’re working on can tie into the latest House of M, World War Hulk, Civil War or whatever. You can’t just be a fan of the X-men and Spider-man or of the FF and Iron Man any more because you never know when those stories are going to be disrupted for actual months to tie into the latest event. Which probably makes it hard to find new readers too. How many people do you think want to read all the big books just to know what’s going on? But there’s something else that ties into this. 

2.) The Big Events Themselves

Honestly, I  was a fan of a lot of Marvel’s characters and titles. So, for me, the big events might not be a problem if they were well written. The problem is that, well, they aren’t. Most of them have heroes fighting one another instead of villains for stupid and contrived reasons. Most of them also feature a lot of wasteful character deaths, that may or may not last, for cheap shock value. It’s not even shocking at this point because they do it all the time. That’s not good writing and what it tells me, as a fan of a lot of these characters you’re killing, is that you don’t care about my ability to enjoy your comics. “You like Bill Foster? Well, too bad we’re going to kill him in an exceedingly disrespectful way.” Is it any surprise that I don’t want to give them my hard earned money to see that?

3.) Character Ruination Everywhere

Marvel doesn’t have to kill characters off to ruin the experience for readers. They can just make really stupid changes to them. Hello, Hydra Agent Steve Rogers. But it’s not just Cap losing all his nobility and dignity. It’s a pretty persistent issue. Jubilee was a cool character. Then she was a vampire and sucked, both literally and figuratively. Speedball was cool, then he went full emo- Penance mode and he’s been an awful character since. They tried to fix him, but the damage was done. Luke Cage was a cool character, but then they saddled him with Bendis’ Mary Sue and now he sucks. The Scarlet Witch was a cool character, but then they made her quasi-incestuous and mentally unstable. And those are just a few examples. There are many, many others who have been ruined by a combination of bad decisions and editorial interference. 

4.) The Handling of Legacy Heroes

In theory, legacy heroes are a great idea. Have the old hero step down, bring in a new, interesting one. The trouble is that Marvel’s been handling these heroes in a way that alienates the fan base for the previous hero. Gone are the days when Tony Stark stepped down to let James Rhodes take the Iron Man mantle due to some personal problems. These days, the old heroes die or turn evil, most of the time. Marvel, I know this is complicated but maybe the way to retain your fans is to treat your characters with respect? 

5.) There’s No  Reason to get Attached to the Heroes

This kind of connects a lot of the prior points. For me, as a comic fan, there’s no impetus to get attached to Marvel’s new characters. Because I know that there’s a good chance they’ll be killed off during a lousy event, get completely changed in a way that’s absolutely devastating to their character or turn evil for stupid reasons. If I get invested in that character, I’ll be setting myself up for disappointment later. And it’s, frankly, not worth my time. 

6.) The Writing Aesthetic

This is going to be the final point I bring up. Speaking personally, my favourite Super hero comics are from the Bronze Age. Back when they could incorporate serious themes, ongoing story lines and character development while also maintaining a lot of the fun, goofy elements. You got good stories that could balance serious themes with more light-hearted moments. A lot of modern Marvel comics, in contrast, are fixated on being dark and edgy. There’s a reason so many heroes die cheaply or turn evil. There’s a reason the good points of so many characters have been lost in a bid to make them darker. There may be an audience for that aesthetic, but I’m certainly not a part of it and it seems like I’m not the only one who feels that way.

So, those are the reasons that I turned away from Marvel. And they probably hold true for a lot of other people as well. So, David Gabriel, maybe instead of blaming the levels of diversity you should focus your efforts on helping the company “get good” as the Internet would say. 

February Bonus Review: DC vs Marvel Comics

Anyone who’s familiar with western comics knows Marvel and DC. They’re the big two. The ones with extended cinematic universes and adaptations of widely varying quality. Comic fans have long debated which characters should fight and who would win. In 1996 the companies themselves decided to come together for a crossover that would explore those very questions in a mini-series written by Ron Marz & Peter David that ran for four issues. So, is it everything that comic fans hoped for? The back of the trade promises the showdown of the century. So, let’s take a look. 

dc-vs-marvel.jpg

Story:

The walls that separate universes are coming undone. Several heroes and villains are finding themselves transported elsewhere. Spidey appears in Gotham. The Juggernaut finds himself in Metropolis. Tim Drake finds himself right in the X-mansion and those are just a few examples. Everyone wonders what’s happening. The answer comes fairly quickly, two brothers are responsible for creating the universes and, after losing their consciousness from a climactic battle that destroyed everything, they’ve remembered everything and become aware of one another. They decide that instead of fighting directly and letting everything end in the cross fire, they’ll select champions from their own universes. The universe that wins gets to live. And that’s how the battle between these two universes is joined. 

Let’s talk about the writing flaws. The first is that a lot of the battles seem more like popularity contests than an actual examination of who would win given the powers and skills of the combatants. To go into some examples, Wolverine beats Lobo in a straight out brawl. And, as much as I like Wolverine’s character when he’s written by Chris Claremont, Larry Hama and several others, including Peter David. Lobo’s whole shtick is that he’s over-powered and over the top. The bloke can go toe to toe with the Justice League in its entirety. Wolverine is not that strong by half. You get the same thing with Storm against Wonder Woman. You’ve got a woman who’s effectively a Goddess against a lady who can control the weather. And somehow Storm wins with a couple lightning bolts even though Wondey should be able to stand up to far worse without a problem. As much as I love Strom, that’s nonsense. We’ve also got Batman against Captain America. A fight between two experts at hand to hand combat. Two tactical geniuses. With one having a measurable advantage in terms of strength, stamina and speed. And yet the one with the disadvantage wins and in a very lazy way. Which is the general problem with these fights. They can’t even give a conceivable explanation for why the less powerful combatant wins. At least the Spidey and Robin fights show you some cleverness on their part that lets them win. The Aquaman vs. Namor fight is also very lazy. This is a fight that could have gone either way, given how evenly matched they are. But we get bullshit involving a whale jumping out of the water and belly flopping onto someone standing on land. That is really stupid. Is the whale supposed to have super powers? 

There’s also a lot of bluster about these heroes working together, learning from one another and we see very little of that. The series really could have benefited from some extra length to let us see these actual interactions in a more substantial way than a few panels. 

With that being said, I do like the idea of the characters being put against one another by cosmic forces outside of their control. It certainly beats having there be some misunderstanding to clear up or having them all get tricked by some villains so that they can halt their battle and come together later. I also do rather like the big climax. 

Characters:

I’ll give the mini-series some credit here. They use a lot of characters and they’re pretty good at giving them a sense of personality that meshes with their regular characterisation. They aren’t deeply complex and I suspect the aftermath of these events was never dealt with in the comics proper. I don’t remember hearing anything about it in them, any way. But the characters are in character and I think that’s the best you can really expect from an event like this. The worst thing I can say about it is that the “romantic tension” betwixt Tim and Jubilation is really forced. 

Art:

So, we get artwork by Dan Jurgens & Josef Rubinstein. Overall, it looks really nice. There are some good action sequences in the story. They could have certainly benefited from being longer since most of them are over in two or three pages, but what we do get is pretty nicely done, mostly. The character art is dynamic with some really good designs for the Amalgam portion and the colourists did a really good job. There are occasional moments of minor fail. There are a couple panels with Bane where it looks like he was drawn without a top and it was lazily added in by the colourist later. There’s an original character called Access who’s drawn a bit inconsistently. All in all, though, the art fails are relatively minor and rare. 

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s DC vs. Marvel. Is it “the showdown of the century?” Not really. The writing can be lazy. Particularly when it comes to explaining how certain characters manage to win their bouts. The concept is a good one, but it’s not explored all that thoroughly and, when it comes right down to it, the actual bouts are too short for that particular accolade. That being said, it is fairly entertaining and there are things to like about it. In the end, it’s a pretty average read. My final rating is a 5/10. Have any ideas for what March’s bonus review should be? Leave them in the comments. Until then, expect the Wednesday anime reviews to continue as scheduled. 

Western Comics and Matters of Death

For the second time, let’s discuss Western comics. This time, I won’t be talking about IDW but the big two, Marvel and DC. These companies have both had some incredibly talented writers: Simone, Claremont, Gaiman, etc… They’ve also both had their share of crappy writers: Miller, Bendis, Lobdell and so on. There are a few things that they’ve also failed at pretty consistently, regardless of the quality of the writer. To be specific, the subjects of ageing and death.

Ageing is something we all do. It’s just a part of reality. In comics, they generally avoid the subject. Marvel’s heroes don’t seem to age at all and DC’s may or may not age depending on the character. Which really renders characters like Vandal Savage and Ra’s Al Ghul kind of pointless since their shtick is that they’ve halted their ageing, but so has everyone else, apparently.

With some characters, you could argue that this makes sense. Maybe it’s an alien like Silver Surfer or Starfire or an android like Vision or Red Tornado or maybe it’s a character with a magical origin like Wonder Woman or Roma. However, a lot of these characters are supposed to be regular humans or have super powers that have nothing to do with ageing. So, how is it that they can remain active and the same basic age for decades?

Basically, it all comes down to one thing. Neither company has the ovarian/ testicular fortitude to let their characters grow old because if they actually let age be a factor they’d reach a point where they had to deal with the consequences and come up with new heroes.

So, why and how should they tackle this subject? The why is simple. Because it leads to more compelling stories. One of those things that comes with age is personal growth and development. If a character never ages, they’re also going to keep repeating the same mistakes and get stuck at the same point in their life. Look at the mess that got made with Spider-man in the aftermath of One More Day. He’s not the only example, either, a lot of comic characters get the same basic story arcs and always return to the status quo, never growing or developing or, if they do, returning to the way they were shortly after. Furthermore, this is a good, natural source of drama. Think about what it would be like for those few characters who don’t really age to watch as their loved ones grow older around them and, eventually, die. You could have some really touching and provocative stories about that. A third reason is that it allows the writers to actually show some creativity instead of continuously writing the same established characters. Which would infuse both universes with some much-needed fresh titles.

How should they do it? Well, here’s what I would suggest. First off, establish a time line. You really don’t want to have the universe’s time scale coincide with ours completely but, at the same time, you wouldn’t want your comics’ time to be really slow-moving. So, I would suggest that four months of issues equally a month of comic time would be about right. Once you’ve got that figured out, keep track of your characters’ ages and stick to that scale. You probably don’t want to have all your characters start the same age since that would be a right mess when the time came for them to retire.

Let’s move on to our happy discussion on death. One of the big problems with the modern super hero comic industry is that death is really cheap. It’s cheap in the sense that major characters can get over it faster than you can beat a cold and it’s cheap in the sense that it gets used as a crass tactic to make the stakes seem higher in horrible event comics or as a marketing gimmick.

This one also comes down to a lack of fortitude on the companies’ parts. They want to throw in some death because it gets attention, but they also want to risk losing any major characters. Consequently, you get a right mess where a character dies, everyone acts like it’s a big deal and then they come back after a fairly short amount of time so that they can die again later and repeat the process. In the process, death loses both meaning and tension.

That’s perhaps, the biggest reason to make death permanent in comics. As it is, the main response to a character dying isn’t any type of grief or sense of loss for the reader, it’s curiosity over when they’ll come back and what flimsy justification is going to be employed for it. Maybe it was really Xorn’s twin brother, Xorn, pretending to be Magneto pretending to be Xorn. Not even joking, that one happened. Another compelling reason is that giving death permanence would discourage shitty writers from killing off characters cheaply, and shitty editorial staffs from letting it happen. Death should not just be a cheap shock tactic or a way to show that the antagonist is totally serious this time. Treating it as such is just bad writing.

Let’s move into a bit of how it should be used besides just, it needs to be permanent. First off, character deaths should be handled with respect to that character and their legacy. Trust me, most fans will be able to handle it if it’s done well. Let’s talk about ambiguity. If you want to leave an opening for a character to survive you just have to take a lesson from the Silver Age. Have the character fall out of a plane or into a whirlpool but don’t show what happens to them. Leave the possibility that they may have survived. Now, in order for this to have actual tension there are going to have to be cases where they don’t. There’s no tension otherwise. For that matter, you could have one character disguise as another but actually foreshadow it and give the readers hints so that it doesn’t come across as an ass-pull that came after the fact.

If a super hero comic company would actually use both ageing and death as natural, expected parts of the universe, it would lead to better stories, stronger characters and a consistent influx of fresh characters, both legacy and brand new. Which is why I find it disappointing that it’s really not done.

Agree? Disagree? Have your own ideas on the subject? Go ahead and leave a comment.

Top five things that IDW’s Jem Comic Improved

Today, I thought I’d talk about Western comics for once. To be specific, let’s talk about IDW. Admittedly, this is a strange choice because their stuff is a pain in the ass to get a hold of, at least where I live.

Anyway, they’re primarily known for adapting other works of media into comic format. When I was reading the one comic of theirs I read regularly and saw adverts for a Jem and the Holograms comic, my initial instinct was to ignore it. After all, the timing made it seem like it was coming out to complement the film. Yes, the one that flopped harder than a 200 kilo person diving into a kiddie pool. So, even though I have a fondness for the old cartoon in all its cheesy glory, I didn’t want to bother with the comic. 

b63f67e5-cec2-42c7-afaa-d8de1c194376_zpsotqd50kv (Here’s my man card if any of you want to revoke it due to my liking Jem.)

As it turns out, I was a bit hasty in that assessment, and I officially apologise to IDW, on the off chance that someone who works there may read this, for not giving them the benefit of the doubt. I started hearing a lot of good things about the comic on the Internet. Enough, at the very least, to make me curious. So, I ordered the first seven issues to give it a fair chance. 

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. Even without the awesome music from the cartoon, the comic was clever, funny and had a lot of really endearing stuff. It takes the basic premise from the cartoon and modernises it while drastically improving on several factors. As such, I’m going to list the top five in order from the ones I appreciate slightly less to the one I appreciate the most. 

5. On the subject of inheritance.

One thing that always bothered me about the cartoon was that Jerrica’s father left basically everything to her. It’s not like she’s an only child. She has three sisters. So what is the deal with this blatant favouritism?  Jerrica gets the business, the secret warehouse with a ton of equipment and basically everything else we see that he gave out. Her sisters get whatever she chooses to share with them.

In the comic, this is not the case. Every indication we get suggests that the four of them are sharing what he left behind equally. Jerrica still gets the jem star earrings, but it’s outright stated that they were a birthday present. As a result it actually seems like their dad was really nice and didn’t play favourites. 

4. The Secret Identity makes sense.

So, in the cartoon why did Jerrica need to have Jem as a secret identity instead of using it as simply a stage name? It causes her all kinds of problems and there doesn’t seem to be any real benefit. She doesn’t even tell the guy she’s been dating since well before the series began. Which just causes even more problems. 

The IDW comic fixes that problem by giving her an actual compelling reason for the Jem persona to be a secret identity. Mainly, Jerrica is really shy, suffering from extreme stage fright. She uses Jem as a method of coping with that. It also makes sense that they don’t tell Rio the truth because, in the comic, they don’t know him that well. They meet him after Jem’s debut. Plus, he’s an entertainment reporter and probably wouldn’t keep it a secret just out of sheer professionalism. 

3. Kimber and Stormer.

From the way I discuss ho-yay in every review, you may have the impression that I’m in favour of it being in everything. That’s not quite accurate. I like seeing it when it’s well written, but I wouldn’t say everything needs it nor even that everything would be better with it. Some things, certainly and these comics prove pretty definitively that Jem is one of those things. The budding relationship between Kimber and Stormer isn’t just adorable. It isn’t just a really well crafted relationship. It’s also a great source of tension, given the rivalry betwixt the bands. At the point where I am, there’s some relationship trouble and, I have to say, I really want to get more comics to find out where it goes because the relationship is so good. 

2. Continuity Matters. 

Like many western cartoons of its time, Jem wasn’t big on continuity. Things would happen in an episode, possibly carrying over to the next in cases of multi-part episodes but, ultimately, the status quo would reign supreme and everything would go back to the way it was.

Take my personal favourite episode, The Bands Break Up. In that particular story, Kimber, feeling unappreciated, leaves the Holograms. At the same time, Stormer leaves the Misfits for similar reasons. The two coincidentally meet up and start performing together, becoming very close. in fact, that episode may have been the inspiration for them being a couple in the comic. After that episode, their friendship is never mentioned again nor does it ever come into play. 

In contrast, the comic’s consistently built on the events of previous issues and had much stronger character dynamics and development as a result and there’s no indication that it’s going to stop. 

1. The Holograms all act like sisters. 

One of the more interesting aspects of the cartoon that, unfortunately, didn’t get used to its full potential, was the fact that Jerrica, Kimber, Aja and Shana were all sisters. Except for the fact that they never really acted like it. Whenever something sisterly happened it was between Jerrica and Kimber. Aja and Shana were treated more like Jerrica’s school chums. I guess because they were adopted they don’t get to act like real parts of the family. Which was a shame because there was some great untapped story potential there.

That’s where IDW’s comic comes in. The four of them all have a very sisterly dynamic. You never get the feeling that Aja and Shana are just in the background. They joke around along with Jerrica and Kimber. They all support each other. They just genuinely act sisterly towards one another and I have a feeling that it’s going to lead to some superb stories. 

Now, any of these could change. The comic hasn’t exactly been going all that long, but these are my early impressions of the most dramatically improvements in the comic. Check the comics out if you’re a fan of Jem or if you like really good slice of life style works. I’m going to go order the rest of what they’ve done because it’s truly outrageous in the best possible way.