Archive for the Comic Books Category

Last Comic Book Buyer To Leave, Remember To Turn The Lights Off

Posted in Comic Books, Rants with tags , , , on February 24, 2011 by thelasthonestman

Marvel and DC executive believe that this = profit.

I wrote a month or so ago about the media attention Marvel Comics was getting for their latest “Death of a Major Character” nonsense that they’ve continued to thrust upon their dwindling readership, and I’ve already talked about how both the company and the other major publisher in the industry, DC Comics, seem to be doing everything in their respective powers to kill the comic book business once and for all.  And just when you think the companies can’t get any more creatively bankrupt, you have the Senior Vice President of Sales at Marvel admitting this past weekend at a retailer summit in Texas that the company will “kill a major character every quarter in an effort to drive sales — because why try to revive a dying form of entertainment by trying something positive for longer-term growth when you can rely on short-sighted gimmicks instead?

Don’t get me wrong — I love comic books, and I’m devastated at the idea that in twenty years, the business might be gone forever.  At least I’m not the only one who thinks that way — there’s a host of other comic fans like myself who are sick of much of what passes for modern comic books these days (another good take on this can be found at this link on one of the many comic book blogs I frequent).  I buy a fraction of what I used to ten years ago so far as new material goes (concentrating my money mostly these days on older books), and I can see a time when even a die-hard like myself doesn’t buy anything new anymore.  I definitely will be saddened if I’m part of the last generation to care about comic book characters as something other than movie headliners or television cartoon adaptations.

It’s sad that, as is clearly evident with each passing month, Marvel and DC just doesn’t care.  They’re already reaping what they’ve sowed with what’s currently the lowest sales in their histories — and those dire numbers only look to be getting worse in the future.

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Comic Book Wednesday

Posted in Comic Books, Entertainment, Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2011 by thelasthonestman

There’s a lot of news in the comic book marketplace, both from the publishing aspects as well as the far-more-profitable-these-days movie-making aspects.  None of the subjects today are earth-shattering or new, but there’s items I thought were worth mentioning (and due to a busy schedule, that I hadn’t been able to get to until now).

Pictured here: Marvel editors coming up with new ideas to save the dying comic book industry

The Fantastic Four is catching the attention of the mainstream media, as the news surrounding the latest issue of the team’s title — which features the “death” of one of the team’s members — was broken early, before the book’s actual release into comic book shops.  I’m not going to spoil here who bites the bullet — though clicking on the link above will bring you to an article that has the deceased hero’s identity — and I’ve already pretty much ripped Marvel and the comic book industry as a whole for their lack of vision in keeping our industry alive, so there’s not much reason to rehash things again here.

What I will add in is the latest in ridiculous proclamations by comic book heads — this time by Joe Quesada — who tells us that, if the deceased in question makes a return from the dead at sometime in the future — you know, because we’ve never really seen deaths and rebirths in comic books as a story-telling device in a while (sarcasm alert!) — that “… I can assure you that it’s going to be very, very interesting and not what anyone expects.” (emphasis mine).  Maybe Quesada should have said “It’ll be what everyone is expecting”.  If he had, at least he’d be speaking honestly as to one reason why the sales of new comic books continue to drop to frighteningly low numbers.

— And in another sign of changes in the comic marketplace, there was the announcement that Wizard Magazine (and its sister publication for toys, Toyfare) was ceasing publication, ending its run after almost twenty years (While Wizard was founded in 1991, Toyfare was strarted later, in 1997).

For those seriously invested in the industry, Wizard had stopped being relevant a long time ago.  The price guide — what was left of it — was inaccurate, and the magazine came under heavy criticism at times for being a shill for certain companies and their products, and not an impartial observer of the marketplace.  In recent years, the magazine began covering seemingly everything but comics — movies, television, video games — as its circulation numbers declined heavily.  Still, with all of its fault, the advent of Wizard at the time was a big deal in the industry, and the loss of the magazine is a noteworthy event nonetheless.

— As is often the case these days, the exciting news in the comic book industry revolves around nothing in the publishing arena, but instead in the movie world.  There were two very good tidbits that came out in the last week — and one that was … uh … not so good.

First, the good.  One of the comic-book based movies I’ve been waiting for anxiously for a long, long time has been a Captain America movie worth seeing — and this summer, my wish will become a reality with the release of Captain America: The First Avenger on July 22.  I’ve long thought that a serious take on the heart of Marvel’s universe set in World War II would be a winner, and that’s exactly what we’re going to see in director Joe Johnston’s film.  Early pictures from the film have been leaking for a while now, and this photo of Cap in his war attire makes me feel confident that this picture will be on the right track.

Also making news is the announcement that Anne Hathaway has been cast as Selina Kyle/The Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane in the third installment of  Chris Nolan’s Batman epic, The Dark Knight Rises.

The choice of Catwoman as a villain/love interest in the film wasn’t surprising (even if  the casting of Hathaway was a minor surprise — this sure beats her playing a female Vulture in Sam Raimi’s aborted Spider-Man 4, though), and Hardy’s presence wasn’t a shock either, considering his track record of working with Nolan.  What was a surprise, however, was the choice of Bane as one of the primary bad guys.  I liked the decision myself; the Bane in the comic books was (and is) an intelligent, ruthless, powerful adversary capable of defeating his opponent wither through brawn or through strategy.  Anyone who only knows Bane from his god-awful portrayal in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin entirely missed the potential of the character.  Judging by Nolan’s work so far, that’s not a concern I have here at all.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the first photos getting leaked out from the new Spider-Man film.  I was already critical of the approach that the film seemed to be taking early on — particularly with the unnecessary retelling of an origin that was done perfectly by Sam Raimi less than a decade ago — but I was at least happy with some of the initial casting announcements that were being made (Emma Stone as Spidey’s first love, the doomed Gwen Stacy and Denis Leary as Captain George Stacy among many), even if I was still worried about the film turning into “Twilight with webs”.  But I was a lot more concerned when I saw the first photos of Spider-Man’s costume hitting the web.

That’s not — terrible — but it looks like it”s immediately deviating from the classic portrayal of the costume (which was nailed 100% true by Raimi in his trilogy).  My obvious question is — why?  Why go away from something that’s iconic and instantly recognizable?  If there’s good reason to — like changing Batman’s garb somewhat in Nolan’s films — then I understand the reasoning entirely.  But change for the sake of change isn’t smart.  My growing skepticism on this film also wasn’t helped by the news that one of the most iconic characters in the Spider-Man universe — J. Jonah Jameson — doesn’t appear in this film either.  Considering that Jameson was a pivotal character in Spider-Man’s earliest years — and that he predates both of the Stacy’s in the character’s history — his omission from this film is bizarre, even if there was no way another actor was going to nail J.K. Simmons dead-on portrayal of the character that we saw already.  As big a Spidey fan as I am — I’m not feeling excited about this movie.  At all.

Later this week I’ll be at the New Orleans Comic-Con — pictures hopefully to come!

So Who’s The Bigger Fools? Marvel Comics — Or The Media That Believes Their Hype?

Posted in Comic Books, Rants with tags , , , on December 27, 2010 by thelasthonestman

And one need not wonder why the comic book industry is slowly dying.

Killing off a member of the FF? What a great idea! We've never seen anything like that before ...

I’m jumping around the internet late tonight, and I see this ridiculous article on MSN detailing how one of the members of Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four, will die in January.  According to Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada, “The beauty of the Marvel Universe is that it is in constant change.  Things are always happening, very much like life itself.”  And  Executive Editor Tom Brevoort is among the voices at Marvel claiming a great significance to the “event”, saying, “It’s a story that will have a transformative effect on these characters — virtually nothing will be the same after the events of this story.”

Whatever.

Just in case you’re not a long-time comic reader like I am, let me save you the trouble of rushing out to your local comic shop to buy the issue, thinking it represents anything more substantial than the continued evaporation of the comic book industry as a medium that’s going to be viable.  Everything — and I do mean everything — about this reeks of Marvel’s attempting to drive short-term sales of the book at the expense of the long-term outlook — which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been following the comic book industry over the last twenty years, since that’s largely what the people in charge of both Marvel and DC have been doing for far too long.

... Errr ... never mind.

A poly-bagged issue (which Marvel claims is to keep people from spoiling the surprise, but veteran comic people know is designed to tempt people into buying two copies, one to read and another to keep sealed)?  That’s a sales gimmick we’ve seen too many times before (remember the “Death” of Superman?).  “Killing” off a main character?  Well, there was a time when that actually meant something in comics (look no further than the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the first death of Jean Grey), but that was a long time ago — now, death is a tired cliche that both main companies trot out on a seemingly monthly basis, all-but-obliterating its effectiveness as a story-telling device.  And the idea that “nothing will be the same again”?  How many times do the readers need to hear that tripe until it’s just another case of the boy crying wolf — again?

Enough is enough already.  It’s obvious that what the heads of Marvel and DC are doing with the properties they’ve been entrusted with isn’t working — and hasn’t been — for a long time now.  Sales are lower than they’ve ever been, and all of the success of the movie and licensing aspects of comic book characters aren’t going to save the publishing wings of the Big Two, since neither is luring new readers into the stores.  Neither company seems interested in building a base for the future, instead relying on major “events”  and cheap gimmicks (like the death carousel) to sell books (and in turn, crippling the chances of most titles to sell when there isn’t some huge “event” going on in the book).

Marvel and DC's idea for keeping comic book stores from closing in the future will probably be to kill off their owners -- it works in the books, right?

You don’t have to look any further than this Fantastic Four story to see that in full effect.  The book , which I’ve been picking up, has actually been a great read from Jonathan Hickman — but the sales have been less than spectacular.  Instead of allowing an audience to build by — gasp — actually telling good stories over a period of time and building an audience (you know, the way they used to do it), Marvel is resorting to the cheap gimmick of  “killing” off a main character.  Whoopee.

It would be great if the mainstream media didn’t give Marvel (or DC, when they resort to the same crap) the cheap publicity like MSN gave Marvel on this non-story, and it would be even better if someone like MSN would do a story on the dwindling comic book industry, once-thriving but now seemingly headed towards extinction.  That’s a lost hope, however, as it’s unlikely that anyone at that media level follows — or cares — about comic books beyond whatever movie opens at number one next summer — the staggeringly bad distribution numbers of most books these days would seem to bear that theory out.

If you ask me, it sounds like a great time for me to be jumping off of the Fantastic Four title — hopefully, what’s left of the readership of the book will join me and send Marvel a message that we’ve had enough.  I doubt Marvel will hear it, though — it seems they haven’t been paying attention for the last two decades — why would they start now?

First Thor Trailer Released

Posted in Comic Books, Movies with tags , , , on December 11, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Consider me psyched up.

Weekend Quickies

Posted in College Basketball, College Football, Comic Books, Entertainment, Movies, News/Current Events, Personal, Sports, The Wrapups with tags , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2010 by thelasthonestman

It’s a hit-and-run update this weekend (but thankfully not like the hit-and-run my wife suffered earlier in the week), as my personal schedule gets a little tighter — though I’m not going to complain about the reason.  I’m one of the lucky ones out there, as I’ve just picked up some supplemental income in the form of a new job.  That makes me one of the fortunate ones in a country where unemployment is now sitting at just under 10% and where unemployment is at a seven-month high — even as we’re smack dab in the middle of what’s supposed to be the biggest retail time of the year.

The Economy will be fine! We're going to recover any day now! Nothing to see here! Nothing to see!

It’s not just retailers shedding jobs, however — industry, financial institutions, and the government are all cutting their workforce — which makes some of the people making claims that we’re entering a recovery look about as clueless as the late Leslie Nielsen telling us there’s “nothing to see here.”  We’re a long way from getting to where we want to economically, and so long as our Congress continues to work in their own self-interests (and the self-interests of the people supporting their re-election bids) and we continue to ignore the problems that aren’t going away — the deficit, a loss of our manufacturing base, and the lack of creating new technologies to spur new industries, just for starters — then we’re going to continue heading in the wrong direction.

— Speaking of the deficit, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that while people being polled these days are in favor or cutting the deficit, viewing it (correctly) as a major problem our country is facing — they largely want the deficit to be slashed while not touching the programs that are important to them.  Well, of course.  It’s that kind of narrow thinking — and a belief of entitlement that our parents and grandparents never had, but that current generations have come to embrace — that’s led us into the quagmire we’re in now.  And unless everyone is prepared to ante up in the form of sacrificing something, then the problem won’t ever get fixed — until as a nation we find ourselves truly looking into the abyss (cue ominous music).

— I saw a large uptick in the traffic here over the last week, and a large part of it were people being drawn to the site searching for Jimmy Valvano-related items.  Jimmy V Week just ended, and for those of you who somehow aren’t familiar with the story, The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded by ESPN and the late coach Jimmy Valvano.  Over it’s over 18 years, the foundation has raised over $100 million for cancer research.  I wrote a piece about it last year around this time that included Valvano’s inspirational speech from the 1993 ESPY awards — yow owe it to yourself to listen to it if you’ve never heard it (and even if you already have).  Click here for the piece.

"Someday, the Heisman Trophy Club will just pretend I never got this."

— As we head into the weekend and the announcement of the Heisman Trophy winner on Saturday, my friend Steven pointed me over to direction of the Heisman Trophy Winners list at the official Heisman Trophy website — for a good chuckle (and once you’ve finished marveling at the days when players from Army, Yale, and Princeton could actually win he award) scan to end of the list and to the winners of this past decade.  See anyone missing?

While we’re at it, maybe we can take bets on whether or not Cam Newton will be conspicuously absent from the list as well in another five or six years.  If I had to guess, Vegas has that result off the board.

— And finally, the trailer for the new movie from Marvel Studios — Thor (based on the comic book hero of the same name) debuts today (at 6:00 PT).  All I can say is that, if the footage I saw that was leaked a few months ago is any indication, Marvel is hitting it out of the park again so far as their adaptations go.  With the Captain America and Avengers movies forthcoming, it’s a great time to be a comic book fan!

As soon as the trailer is available, I’ll try to get it up here — so check back later tonight!

— With that, I hope everyone has a great weekend — and I’ll see you back here next week.

What’s A Superman Movie Without Superman? Probably A Disaster Even The Man Of Steel Can’t Prevent

Posted in Comic Books, Entertainment, Movies, Rants with tags , , , , , , , on November 24, 2010 by thelasthonestman

When it was announced that Zach Snyder — he of 300 and Watchmen — would be at the helm of the new Superman movie, I was on board.  The two films referenced above had their share of critics, but they were two films I found immensely entertaining.  On the latter especially did I think Snyder proved himself capable of putting a serious comic book movie (tights, powers, and all) on the big screen.

However, word that’s leaking out about the upcoming Superman project makes me believe that Warner Brothers still doesn’t get it when it comes to putting one of their flagship characters on the big screen, and more than ever, it means that the movie battle between Marvel Comics and DC Comics will continue to be won by Marvel.

Anne Hathaway + any movie = worth watching

The news that bothers me isn’t the rumored casting of Anne Hathaway as Lois Lane — not at all.  I absolutely love Anne Hathaway — I’d pay good money to watch her read the contents off the side of a milk carton — and I think she’s got the mixture of sex appeal, spunk, and sass to make her the perfect Lois Lane.  The two previous attempts at getting this character right on the big screen were misfires; Margot Kidder had the right personality for the first four films, but — as bad as this might sound — she just wasn’t attractive enough onscreen to make me think she could sweep the Man of Steel off his feet, and while Kate Bosworth is definitely beautiful, she looked too young for the role and had the charisma of a grilled cheese sandwich in Superman Returns.  Hathaway would take the best of what both other actresses brought to their roles to be the definitive big-screen Lois (though for my money, it’ll take a hell of a performance to top Teri Hatcher’s smoldering portrayal of Lois on the small screen in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman).

My issue is the supposed plot details that are being leaked, namely that we’re going to have a rehashing of Superman’s origin and a film that largely focuses on Clark Kent, with precious little Superman in it — or at least it seems that way from what’s being said.  According to the above linked report,  the film will focus on the Man of Steel’s alter ego as a young journalist as he helps people while not using his superpowers.  Supposedly, the audience will then watch as Clark Kent travels the world only to return to his Smallville home to learn his true origin.

To quote Bill Murray from the classic Scrooged:

Here’s a newsflash for the good people at Warner Brothers and Snyder as well:  We know the origin story of Superman.  All of us do, everywhere — men, women, and even children.  It might be the most famous origin of any fictional character in any medium.  And it was told tremendously in Richard Donner’s original movie, which everyone who’ll be interested in seeing this film will have already seen.  And you won’t do it any better than it was done there.

You're the Man of Steel -- Stop Crying!

And so far as the “finding himself and who he really is” nonsense — well, we’ve seen that too, again, mostly in the first movie (though similar themes were explored in the second movie as well).  A Superman who is unsure of himself and who can’t embrace his role as the protector of mankind?  This take has been tried before in the comics, usually to universal derision and scorn.  No one wants their Superman filled with angst, doubts, and a touch of self-loathing — while there’s plenty of characters that such an approach fit perfectly with, the Man of Steel is definitely not one of them.

What do audiences — both the die-hard comic-book fans and the casual viewers — want in their Superman movie then?  How about no more tired rehashing of the same things over and over again for a start — enough with Lex Luthor as the main villain already.  No more dumb bimbo sidekicks to the antagonist as comic relief.  No more ridiculous subplots involving children that might be the Man of Steel’s, or real estate scams as the bad guy’s motivation, or endless monologues from Marlon Brando as Jor-El.  No more Phantom Zone escapees.  It’s ground we’ve covered enough times already.

Instead, give us a bad guy who really can challenge the Man of Steel on a physical level as well as a mental one.  Brainiac would be a great start, coming to Earth to shrink Metropolis to add to his collection of cities.  Or Darkseid, in an attempt to enslave our planet under the rule of Apokolips.  Or maybe a classic interpretation of Bizarro, in the form of a weapon used by a smarter, less physical rogue like the Toyman.

Once we have a villain to build a story around, then give us action.  Plenty of it.  You have the most powerful being on the planet with an opponent who can match him toe-to-toe — let’s see them go at it.  While one would think that using this formula isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s worth noting that only one Superman movie has had anything resembling this approach in it (Superman II).  Add in some other thrilling action sequences that display the Man of Steel’s powers to their full effect (like the incredibly well-done Shuttle rescue sequence in the most recent movie, one of the only things about that film that actually worked) and presto — a winning formula.  Certainly, it’s a recipe for something better than the some of the bad-tasting films we’ve seen for a character that’s deserved far better.

Will Warner Brothers realize that before they end up with another big-budget debacle on their hands?  If early reports are any indication, you don’t need a Superman to tell you that the answer is apparently not.

An Open Letter to the Presidents of Marvel and DC Publishing

Posted in Comic Books, Rants with tags , on October 17, 2010 by thelasthonestman

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”

–George Santayana

What does this book ...

We’ve been here before.  As a comic book retailer back in the late 1990’s, the landscape I see now has more than a passing resemblance to the one I saw back then.  Considering that the comic book industry seemed well on its way to oblivion during that period  — well, that’s an era that I’d think you, the heads of the two major comic book publishing companies, would want to avoid repeating.  But if the industry’s newfound reliance on gimmicks to boost book sales – gimmicks no more prevalent than that of variant covers – are any indication, those of you at Marvel and DC Comics look determined to play the part of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

... And this book ...

Let’s be clear about why variant covers have made such a strong comeback in the present day – it’s solely a gimmick to artificially boost the sales on a given title.  There’s certainly no one I know in the market who’s clamoring to purchase two and three copies of the same exact book – with a different cover – at three to four bucks a pop.  Those prices are high enough for what is essentially 22 pages of entertainment, and that’s a term that can be used loosely considering the amount of quality that goes into a lot of Marvel and DC’s product these days.  But when a buyer feels the need to purchase multiple copies of a book – sometimes four or five copies if they want to get all of the variant covers – and when some of the prices of those books can range upwards of a hundred dollars or more?  Well, when you’re making someone in the hobby choose between putting food on their table and getting all of the covers for the new X-Men title, that’s how you chase collectors out of the business once and for all.

... And these two books have in common? Answer: they're all the same issue -- Amazing Spider-Man #600 -- and they're all in my collection.

The company line has always been “No one’s forcing someone to buy them all – a buyer can pick and choose what cover they want, and we’re only giving them some variety”.  But that’s not really 100% true, is it?  The collector who is feeling forced to get them all, no matter what the price may be, feels differently.  And in turn, that’s keeping them from spending money on different titles, potentially weakening the company’s line of books across the board.  And the retailers around the country who sell your product are forced into meeting high quotas in their ordering to be able to receive variants to sell, a necessity for their businesses to remain competitive and to be able to offer variants for the collectors who are willing to shell out the big bucks for the rarest of the rare.  This is forcing retailers to over-order books they normally wouldn’t, often leaving them with stacks of unsold products that can’t be returned for a refund and may never sell.  In a business with razor-thin profit margins, that’s a recipe for disaster.

I’m not saying that variant covers don’t have their place, but in today’s market, they’re simply out of control.  It’s too many variants on too many books made by too many companies.  It’s an artificial stimulus to correct sagging sales when the real focus should be on putting out a better product and trying to widen the target audience, and not shrinking it.  A similar approach has all but put the sports card and collectible marketplace on life support – maybe those of you at Marvel and DC might want to brush up on that history lesson as a sobering example of where you don’t want to see your industry headed.