Complaints, complaints

If you follow our Twitter feed, you may have gathered that The Beat was once again on the road last week, and the week before, and before that it was moving, and a holiday and before that BEA and before that…oh I don’t know what it was but it was something. It’s been even crazier than usual, and we’re definitely been shirking our blogging duty. Along the way we’ve been storing up all these hot news stories to add our own snark dignified commentary to, but we never had the time to build up a full head of steam. And based on the longer-than-anticipated lifespan of some of these “controversies,” they deserved a full measure of well thought out snark dignified commentary, and not something half tossed off while I was babysitting or eating a piece of chicken or whatever.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, yeah, this is all belated, but at least I’m not holding a chicken bone. As some kind of lagniappe, I will scatter a bit of my own reportage of things i saw/heard with my OWN EYES AND EARS over the last little while. Enjoy.

¶ ABC’s 20/20 newsmagazine had a whole segment on superheroes a few weeks back, but in this day and age just being on prime time (what does that even mean any more?) TV isn’t enough to merit praise, and when one of the headers is, in all seriousness,

Was Jesus the First Superhero?


you realize the whole thing needs to be quietly locked in the attic and given over to Mrs. Danvers’ tender care.

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This is Mrs. Danvers, btw. It’s not good.

¶ Whoa!The Rise of Arsenal sure got people upset. I don’t know why the story of Arsenal’s good showing in this year’s Premiership would create such outrage, unless it was all from Man U fans.

Ah, the OTHER Arsenal. I haven’t read #3 — I had to throw out my copy when I moved office — but from reading the reaction,you’d think it was a cross between BATTLEFIELD EARTH and HUMAN CENTIPEDE:

It’s essentially “The Room” for comics, but without the lighthearted fun: Truly atrocious, but so far gone that it moves back and forth between scenes that would be hilarious if they weren’t meant to be serious (the title character beats a bunch of dudes half to death in order to protect the rotting corpse of a cat that he thinks is his dead daughter) and jaw-dropping out of sheer confusion about why someone would do this.


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I know you all read what Abhay had to say but it is so much fun to pull quotes.

As for the comic itself, I don’t know– it’s a success. I “enjoyed” it quite a bit, even if only in quotation marks. Obviously, if I bought it, it “succeeded” — it created an accident on the side of the road so horrific that I craned my neck to look at it. And you know: well done. I will now remember JT Krul’s name, and if you believe that obscurity is an author’s true enemy, well done to him, too. I mean, the low opinion in which I hold numerous other writers in comics certainly hasn’t hurt their careers, so well done to him. Well done.


TitansTower was a little more charitable, pointing out it wasn’t the worst comic of all times, or even the worst Titans comics of all times, and suggesting many aspirants to the throne, while pointing out that editorial fiat and meddling has put a firm stamp on much of DC’s product of late. And other folks helpfully pointed out that Marvel has had its own gratuitous moments of late :

I don’t want it to seem like I’m harping on DC here, as much as I am appauled by the sequence with cat (and believe me, not much really grinds my gears when it comes to insane sequences in comics – from women in fridges to the death of minor(ity) characters, I’m not usually phased). Marvel is certainly guilty of their own Rise Of Arsenal storyline, such as with Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum. Both these books featured excessive violence with the intent to simply shock the reader, excessively hyper-sexualized characterization and storytelling as well as a good few moments of gratuitous torture porn. None of it seemed to really fit in with the overall Ultimate story up until that point, and all of it was rather obscene and lauded by critics and fans. Granted – Ultimatum took place in an alternate universe that doesn’t effect the larger Marvel Universe or the Heroic Age in the way that Brightest Day/Rise And Fall effect DC’s Universe, but bad storytelling is bad storytelling no matter what universe it is in.


All of this impotence, cannibalism and dead cat swinging comes as a shock to those who thought “Heroic Age”and “Brightest Day” were a signal to begin a more optimistic and less gruesome page in superhero lore. But those looking for hopeful signs should have, as Rich Johnston suggested, paid more attention to what Geoff Johns actually said all the way back in February:

“Brightest Day’ is about second chances. I think it’s been obvious from day one that there are major plans for the heroes and villains from Aquaman to take center stage in the DC Universe, among many others, post-Blackest Night. ‘Brightest Day’ is not a banner or a vague catch-all direction for the DC Universe, it is a story. Nor is ‘Brightest Day’ a sign that the DC Universe is going to be all about ‘light and brighty’ superheroes. Some second chances work out…some don’t.”


You can say that again. But look on the bright side: Rise of Arsenal #4 comes out next week and we can begin all this anew!

¶ On the other hand, Van Jensen lost his innocence long ago.

We all stood around a moment longer, then quickly headed off separately, forever unable to think of Character A and Creator B in the same, innocent way any more.

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¶ I had this story bookmarked from right after BookExpo a few weeks back. It seems book bloggers held a convention, and book publishers sent representatives:

A swarm of book bloggers converged on Javits Center in their first convention last Friday, which drew 250 people to a day-long lineup of speakers and panels following Book Expo America. The presence of online marketing specialists from most of the major houses – and sponsorships by HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and the Crown Publishing Group, as well as smaller publishers like Peachtree and Unbridled Books – showed the industry’s embrace of the bloggers, most of whom are unpaid enthusiasts who revel in spreading the word about books they love. “The best people in the industry are getting to know the best bloggers,” declared Ron Hogan, former director of online marketing strategy at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


I’ve noted before that book bloggers are seen as a much more benign force by the book industry than their comics counterparts. Perhaps this is because there are a lot more books than comics, and book bloggers tend to be “mommy bloggers” who write about books they like in hopes of giving them more attention–as opposed to comics bloggers who write about comics they hate with hopes of watching industry professionals respond to them with spittle and twitters.

Still, it’s amusing to imagine a gathering of 250 COMICS bloggers, now, isn’t it? Is there a way to chain this force for good?

¶ Oh yeah the whole DCU reclaims Vertigo characters thing. This whole thing came to light when it was revealed that noted SF author China Miéville ‘s take on the character for Vertigo had been scrapped by editorial decree, and Swampy is now headed back to the DCU, from whence he emerged, probably along with other trenchcoat-wearing mystical types. And he’ll probably be called “Swampy” once he gets there.

First, while Miéville is indeed a noted and respected author, upon a little reflection the sad reality is that comics shops will order more copies of SWAMP THING #1 by J.T Krul than they will by a noted, respected SF author. That’s just the way it is, and no use denying it.

Second, while out on the convention trail somewhere this spring, there was a definite sense that Vertigo was entering its own Phantom Zone. I became especially alarmed at one panel where a fan asked Dan DiDio what was upcoming at Vertigo, and he responded, “Don’t worry, Vertigo isn’t going anywhere.” Since no one had previously thought it was, it seemed an odd statement.

Independently, elsewhere along the con trail, I’ve been told by several Vertigo creators that projects have been quietly pushed way back on the schedule, acquisitions slowed considerably and so on. So, you know….developing.

marvel1602.jpg¶ So this isn’t entirely a round of DC bashing, Marvel seems to be having its own issues with its book distribution process. In switching to Hachette from Diamond, they have suddenly been forced to do things like…plan ahead, and it hasn’t been easy. The book business requires scheduling a year ahead of time, and Marvel tends to fly by the seat of their pants.

This is all significant because if there is one thing that could be done tomorrow to improve overall comics sales in all channels, it would be Marvel setting up a coherent backlist of proven titles, keeping it in print, and promoting it. You know, the stuff DC/Random House does in its sleep. Apparently, Marvel’s thrifty, thrifty ways over the years have mitigated against the idea of “a big print run,” but sometimes that’s what you have to do to make it in the bookstore market. Comics shop retailers have the same complaints about Marvel keeping stuff that sells in print, and they don’t even make returns.

While you’re already seeing Marvel turn over some of its bookstore business to Disney, they do have their own way of doing things. At BookExpo there was kind of a funny scene on the last afternoon when I was hanging out in the Diamond Comics aisle, and a librarian was standing at the empty Marvel booth proclaiming that she was trying to keep people from stealing the books in the display. When the fellow running the booth came back, I mentioned the woman’s vigil, but he said it was no big deal — they always let people take the books at the end of the show. Even if BEA is of increasingly less use to publishers, it seemed like an odd way to promote the line. On the plus side, some people picked up some nice swag.

Oh dear me…I haven’t even gotten to the pink and blue people or pirates and it’s already cocktail hour. I guess this rant will have to have a part 2.

Comments

  1. Synsidar says:

    If a story is terrible, I’m interested in knowing why the story is terrible. The worst story, IMO, is one which couldn’t be saved by rewriting portions of it. The premise is terrible, and there’s no command of technique — not a single paragraph or panel could be transferred to a new story. That situation is a reason to reject a story, to fire a writer, or to fire a writer and his editor. I’ve never accepted the argument that there aren’t any bad (story) ideas. My hierarchy:

    Good idea/Good execution
    Good idea/Bad execution
    Bad idea/Good execution
    Bad idea/Bad execution

    SRS

  2. It’s probably not cool to say, but I actually am a little excited that Swamp Thing will be heading back to the DCU. As long as the crossovers don’t dominate (and, unfortunately, they probably will), I think you can get some neat stories out of that. One of my favorite moments in the Alan Moore Swamp Thing run is Swampy’s confrontation with Batman. “If you ever do this to my city again, I’ll kill you.” “Yes. I do believe… that you might.” Awesome.

    As a side note — and I know this isn’t representative of all comic fans — I follow writers, not characters, to such a degree that even a Swamp Thing book (who’s probably my second favorite comics character) will not get a read from me if it’s by an author I can’t stand, and as such I’d take an unknown (to me) sci-fi author over JT Krul any day. Actually I really like when authors I don’t know write characters I do — it’s a good excuse to get exposed to new people.

    SRS, I dig that hierarchy. I agree.

  3. mark coale says:

    I don’t know if I would categorize Arsenal’s season as ‘good,’ given that they almost ceded 3rd place in the league (and automatic Champions League status) to Spurs.

    Since our plans never materialized, I hope we can get FMB to do some guest World Cup posts here, although we’ll understand if he doesn’t want to talk about Rob Green.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It seemed to me that Vertigo has long been embarrassed by its genre ‘roots’ and was avoiding (or almost sabotaging) any ’80s-type character reboots.

  5. Cool… now we can compare Neil Gaiman’s version of Swamp Thing (scuttled with #88) to China Miéville’s version (scuttled by the DCU).

    Sure, there might not have been many copies sold (and I doubt ST’s sales will climb on return to the DCU), but consider the backlist. Neil Gaiman was unknown when he wrote Sandman. Miéville is quickly becoming a noted author (numerous nominations), and within ten years will be a bestselling author. How many copies of a CM Swamp Thing would DC sell then?

    Also… doesn’t DC have 52 different universes to play with? Why not split Swamp Thing… Vertigo can print a serious series, and the DCU can have their version. Create two cultivars, and propagate both.

    I foresee Vertigo getting out of the periodical market. Wildstorm seems to be printing many titles which once would be considered suited to Vertigo. I think what DC is doing is taking back the original DC characters (Swamp Thing, Hellblazer, Madame Xanadu), pushing creator-owned series over to Wildstorm, and concentrating on original literary graphic novels under the Vertigo imprint.

  6. Karen says:

    I’m just thrilled to see a correct use of the word “lagniappe,” myself. Well done, you!

  7. Army of Dorkness says:

    I’d rather read non-DCU Swamp Thing. I won’t be buying it either way, but if I ever decided to read it, I’d be more likely to read a non-DCU story more in line with Vertigo’s type of content.

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