Virgin Comics: changes ahead

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virgin comics ramayan 3392 ad Virgin Comics: changes aheadRumors about Virgin Comics are flying fast and furious this weekend. Sources are telling me that the comics publishing is getting drastically reduced or eliminated and most of the New York staff has been let go…however, official announcements or confirmation have not yet come.

Virgin Comics launched in 2006, funded by billionaire mogul Richard Branson, with input from author Deepak Chopra and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur. However, the principal movers and shakers at the company are comics-loving entrepreneurs Sharad Devarajan, Suresh Seetharaman, and Gotham Chopra. From the start, Virgin has produced several lines of comics — the “Shakti” line, based on Hindu mythology and culture, and the “Director’s Cut” line which features concepts by directors such as Kapur, Guy Ritchie, and John Woo. The “Voices” line includes comics based on concepts by a variety of Hollywood/entertainment types, from Nicolas Cage (Nowhere Man) and Dave Stewart to Hugh Jackman and, most notoriously, Jenna Jameson.

Virgin Comics had also recently arranged with the Sci-Fi Channel to both produce comics based on TV shows and develop comics as shows. The first was The Stranded, by Mike Carey, which is being developed as a pilot.

Virgin’s most recent notable announcements are a deal with Stan Lee to create an entire new superhero universe, and The MBX, a series of webisodes based on the Mahabharata, written by Grant Morrison.

Virgin’s print comics line never seemed to catch fire, either in the US or India, so cutbacks would come as no surprise. It would be equally surprising to see a lot of their development deals and web-based material disappear, however.

Developing.

Comments

  1. Hope it ain’t all true. Their India Authentic series of stories about Indian gods is excellent.

  2. Gotham Chopra?

    (insert weak joke here)

  3. Herr Mike says:

    I wondered what market they were going for. Probably just a development area for movie ideas. And I really didn’t see any that looked very good.

  4. jimmy palmiotti says:

    they are a great group of guys and a blast to work with and I wish nothing but good things for them. I sure hope things work out.

  5. Dave Hackett says:

    If this is true, I’d be extremely interested in the post-mortem on this. Virgin’s had some deep pockets, creators with big time name recognition (although not without debate as to their contribution and/or talent to their individual titles) and what at first blush looked like a really diverse and interesting slate of books.

    So why did it fail? Why didn’t the books catch on, or even get a look? What does this say about the potential for any company to rise up against the established players?

  6. Gee…who’da thought a deal involving a snake oil salesman like Deepak Chopra would fall through?

  7. You know what killed them? One word. Arrogance.

  8. I stopped carrying most of the Virgin comics about 10 months ago due to a complete lack of sales. The TPBs sold (and still sell) sporadically in general, with India Authentic being the only TPBs that sold anything close to decent numbers here.

  9. The line failed because: see above. The list of creators lists ZERO comics people.

    They assumed comics were so simple that a group of people with absolutely no experience making comics could make it work. And they assumed that audiences were so clueless that no one would know the difference.

    The development deals shows that they realized their mistake. Just a little too late.

  10. Hey, they got that new DAN DARE series right, anyway. Whether that was by luck or judgement, though, I dunno.

  11. I’d never even heard of them or any of their comics, and that’s too bad because that “Ramayan” cover looks like something I would read!

  12. Elektra says:

    I read one…the Jenna Jameson book. It may very well be one of the worst comics I have ever read in my life.

    Pretty pictures with no real understanding of storytelling featuring a scantily clad woman who walks around the city of New York in broad daylight slaying enormous monsters. No one seems to notice because we are supposed to believe that New York is so full of weirdos that demons attacking a woman carrying a weapon while covered in blood is just business as usual.

    After one of her demon slaying incidents that no one notices, even though she is dripping in blood in one panel and clean the next, she proceeds to stroll down the avenue contemplating her boyfriend, and how she is really a bisexual. Apparently, after killing a demon that’s the sort of thing one’s mind drifts toward…sexual preferences. Saving the world gets me So DOWN.

    Then she finds her sleazoid boyfriend getting the squeeze from some other chicks, and after the whole demon slaying thing, we get to see her show some Grrrl power by telling him off on panel, because that is so woman centered and forward thinking.

    The worst dialogue I have read in many a day, an absolute disaster all around. Read exactly like the sort of thing high concept thinking people believe comics are all about. Haven’t read another Virgin Comic.

    There aren’t enough pretty Photoshop graphics on the world to save that mess, especially when the artists clearly don’t understand visual storytelling, and the story itself is a disaster.

  13. I’ll try not to be surprised that the most full-of-itself upstart publisher since CrossGen is crashing and burning.

  14. I second that thought Jimmy. I have had a great time working with Virgin and it is doubly special because I got my break in comics from Virgin Comics and Gotham Chopra.

    @Mario –
    (quote)
    The line failed because: see above. The list of creators lists ZERO comics people.
    (unquote)

    I don’t think a creator list which has Mike Carey, Garth Ennis, Ron Marz and Andy Diggle (to name a few) counts as one with “ZERO comics people”.

    –Saurav Mohapatra
    writer
    Mumbai Macguffin,India Authentic, Sadhu : the Silent Ones, Devi

  15. Elektra: I think you may have gone in expecting too much from a comic that stars a porn star. It has a scantily clad heroine? Gasp! The horror! I don’t doubt it’s terrible, but I expected it to be terrible…that’s why I didn’t read it.

    I think the big problem with Virgin was that they tried to do way too much way too fast. I was interested in trying some of their comic, but then almost instantaneously they had all these multiple lines and multiple titles in multiple lines. It just became too confusing to find an entry point, so I didn’t bother. I doubt I’m alone in that.

  16. Elektra says:

    Hi Jason! I was just trying to be openminded when checking out Jenna’s title. All that pre-publication publicity and talk of pro feminist leanings and Grrrl power temporarily forced me to consider that possibility that maybe, just maybe, the porn star might have a brain.

    Maybe she does, but it was nowhere evident in that comic.

    She wanted a chance to be seen as something other than a porn star.

    She…’scuze the expression…blew it.

  17. I worked with Jenna back when I was doing marketing at Virgin Comics, and found her to be intelligent, articulate, and very sweet. I’m also not sure it’s fair to blame her for the content of the book, since much like every other celebrity who “created” Virgin titles, she didn’t actually write it.

  18. No offence to Jimmy Palmiotti or Saurav Mohapatra, but whenever comics creators say the publishers are “a great bunch of guys to work with”, that usually means they don’t mess them around and pay on time.

    That doesn’t address whether the comics created are necessarily any good, worth reading, or have a reason to exist beyond the publisher’s desire to have franchise properties they want to sell to the movies.

    The market reaction seems to have determined that.

  19. Elektra says:

    Hi Laura. Glad to hear Jenna Jameson’s nice.

    But she’s also responsible for the book.

    She marketed it, promoted it, appeared at conventions to push it, accepted money for it. She put her name on it and encouraged people to buy it. She got up on a convention panel as a “woman comics creator” to tout it.

    Yes, she is to blame.

    I fell for the hype and wanted to give it a chance.

    Silly me.

  20. Alan Coil says:

    I want to work with jimmy palmiotti some day so he will finally have worked with someone he couldn’t say that they are “a great group of guys and a blast to work with and I wish nothing but good things for them.”

    No offence, but palmiotti seems to get along with everybody.

    If it’s true that Virgin is downsizing, it’s unfortunate. The industry needs more competition, not less.

  21. Yeah, but really, who did Virgin think their readership was?

    “If you build it, they will come” is a myth.

  22. I really enjoy most of their titles and was pleasantly surprised to find something new in most of the ones i have read.

    The Sadhu is one of the best comics i have read this year and its not the usual title i would like.

    Dan Dare was superb, science fiction comics done right!

    Game Keeper is another great title, the artwork in that book is phenomenal.

    But yeah they have done some really great books and i for one hope they keep going for as long as possible.

  23. Destiny Kilburton says:

    I fell out of my chair when someone told me Virgin Comic’s NYC office is not only in the same building, but on the very same FLOOR, as the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. How wild is THAT!

  24. jimmy palmiotti says:

    alan coil…when are we gonna work together? lol…

    I get along with fair and good people .

    I had a blast working with Ed Burns on DOCK WALLOPER for virgin comics. a great experience all around.

    I did have problems with p.r., presentation of the product and so on…but the group working with me were really into the series.

    yeah, I know it didn’t sell, but I am still proud of it.

  25. Sphinx Magoo says:

    Maybe it just comes down to bad timing.

    When a comic costs as much as a $4 gallon of gas, it’s going to make people tighten up and limit their purchases to familiar items. While the books look cool, a stronger web presence might be the way to go which could lead to better tpb sales.

    I know the concept of comparing purchasing comics to purchasing gallons of gas might be foreign to city dwellers with access to mass transit, but that’s how I’ve had to make decisions lately and I’m guessing I might not be alone.

  26. The Jenna book wasn’t all that bad.

    But Christina Z’s always been far more fetishy then Jenna ever would be. I think her concepts of the character far overshadowed what Jenna probably had in mind.

    I mean the last issue tried to tie everything up in prose format! They coudn’t bother to keep doing it regular comic style, probably due to sales.

    It just shows the market that India and the Far East has been able to create out there works out there, and isn’t something the US can go for.

    That and that when celebs say they want to create comic books they really should be the ones writing them, not handing in plots for other writers to flesh out.

  27. Once again, arrogance is the key word.

    They treated fans and retailers with contempt, avoiding cons or special promotions.

    They were too busy selling movies, but if what you put out is garbage, nobody will want to make a movie out of it.

    Add to that the fact that the charlatan Deepak Chopra isn’t a draw and nobody cares that he created a concept and the writing was on the wall.

  28. Jimmy really does get along with everybody; and Virgin really are (or were) a great bunch of people. The closing doesn’t actually affect me very directly, but I’ve enjoyed working with everyone involved with Virgin; they’ve always done right by me, and I wish them well.

  29. jimmy palmiotti says:

    I really get along with stewart as well. lol

  30. jimmy palmiotti says:

    though my spelling sucks this early in the day, sorry STUART. LOL

  31. Jasper Sitwell says:
  32. Jesse Post says:

    Unless a publisher is producing grossly reprehensible material I don’t think any shuttering of a comics business is cause for these “good riddance”-type comments.

    Sorry to hear the news and here’s to hoping the content finds a home online or elsewhere and that the company’s employees and freelancers find other gigs soon.

  33. Unless a publisher is producing grossly reprehensible material…

    Anything with Deepak Chopra’s name on it qualifies, then.

  34. My only experience with Virgin is trying a few titles (Devi, Snakewoman, Seven Brothers)…but at the NYCC I will say the staff in the booth was not interested in talking to fans, librarians in my personal experience. They were really digging each other. I know cons are long days, but no one would even acknowledge those of us who went to the booth.

    I did wonder about the big names swapping the content at Virgin. Ennis’s Dan Dare title is beautifully done by Erskine though.

  35. I’m shocked to find out that Deepak Chopra ran over Franklin Harris’ dog, gave him a wedgie, and stole his lunch money. What an a-hole that Chopra guy is.

    I think the CrossGen comparisons are apt. In both cases, the cardinal sin was assuming the Direct Market was diverse enough to warrant a full-scale investment of a few dozen properties, none of which were superhero titles. There’s simply not enough room for any diversity at all in the DM.

    I know there are people who are clamoring to blame the quality of the titles themselves but were Virgin titles objectively worse than DC or Marvel? C’mon, people.

    Well, here… Dirk Deppey says it best:

    “The Direct Market caters primarily to a closed network of 25-35 year old men who’ve been reading Marvel and DC Comics for over a decade, and have next to no interest in buying anything that doesn’t cater to their narrow set of interests… Treat the Direct Market as though it were a healthy, diverse and dependable sales environment and you might as well be jumping off a cliff.”

    My only hope is that they continue to produce new content via the Web. I am dying to see Morrison’s MBX. Keeping my fingers crossed for that one.

  36. The difference is, Marvel and DC books have a pre-existing market.

    Virgin comics didn’t, and did nothing to create one beyond assuming people would buy them, thus crashing and burning.

  37. The “pre-existing market” for DC and Marvel comics is unlike any “pre-existing market” on the planet, in any creative medium, in that it won’t allow new brands or, more disturbingly, new genres.

    Virgin Comics might have been a bit foolhardy in jumping in headfirst, but why do we accept, let alone take pride in, the restrictiveness of our chosen medium’s marketplace? When anyone besides DC and Marvel fails, we giggle and chuckle and point fingers. Am I the only one who sees why this is a bad thing?

  38. “I think the CrossGen comparisons are apt. In both cases, the cardinal sin was assuming the Direct Market was diverse enough to warrant a full-scale investment of a few dozen properties, none of which were superhero titles.”

    No, the cardinal sin was assuming that they could simply flood the market with a bunch of new titles and they would sell in sufficient numbers to justify the massive investment. Even established companies like Marvel and DC wouldn’t think of launching “a few dozen” unproven new properties within a short period of time like CrossGen and Virgin did.

    “There’s simply not enough room for any diversity at all in the DM.”

    New publishers such as IDW, Viper Comics, and Boom! Studios have been able find profitable niches for themselves (with very little superhero material) by starting out with a relatively small number of titles to establish their brand identity before expanding their line.

    Apparently Virgin couldn’t even sell Virgin Comics at their own retail outlets (Virgin Megastores) or regular bookstores. It also looks like they didn’t even try to understand or reach out to the market that they were entering.

    http://savagecritic.com/2008/08/touched-for-very-last-time-hibbs-on.html

  39. “Virgin Comics might have been a bit foolhardy in jumping in headfirst, but why do we accept, let alone take pride in, the restrictiveness of our chosen medium’s marketplace? When anyone besides DC and Marvel fails, we giggle and chuckle and point fingers”

    Oh, easy: because every single thing they did was wrong. They launched too many books too fast, too many “imprints” that didn’t make any sense to anyone, none of their books were marketed properly, and absolutely none of them were built around talent. How many essays does Steven Grant have to write? They didn’t read the Steven Grant essays. You can read them for free online– he’s got an *archive*.

    Instead of ideas, vision, creativity, or leadership, they got Jimmy Palmiotti to work on an idea Right Said Fred or Joey Lawrence was too busy to flesh out. They thought throwing money around was an adequate substitute for competence. 17 titles in two years? That’s not foolhardy; that’s ridiculous in the purest sense of “deserving ridicule.”

    Untalented, unprepared, and foolish people failing isn’t a problem with the Direct Market or with DC & Marvel fans; it’s not a problem at all; it’s the warm glow of inevitability. I say, chuckles ahoy!

  40. Jesse Post says:

    What’s wrong with you people?

  41. jimmy palmiotti says:

    right said fred? what planet is that from?

  42. The Bollywood of comic books has indeed arrived.

    ~

    Coat

  43. Vince P says:

    D. Peace : I agree with everything you said, here here.

    Abhay : Why does 17 books in two years deserve ridicule? A small rollout of books, to be sure, but preferable to the onslaught of anonymous drivel that Marvel and DC automatically put out every year without thinking.

    This entire thread seems to celebrate the end of Virgin Comics, but why? What did they ever do to anyone, except put out interesting books? People’s jobs have been lost, don’t forget. Someone gets slighted at their NYCC booth, and suddenly can’t wait for their downfall?? Why is everyone so cynical? Do we want Marvel and DC to be the only publishers of comics??

    And whilst Marvel and DC may have a pre-existing market, it’s evident they have no idea what to do with it or how to move forward from it. Change/risk/fun isn’t in their publishing strategy. Their strangehold on the industry is indeed that, a strangehold, that suffocates diversity and true creativity. No wonder there’s cynicism.

  44. Vince P says:

    D. Peace : I agree with everything you said, here here.

    Abhay : Why does 17 books in two years deserve ridicule? A small rollout of books, to be sure, but preferable to the onslaught of anonymous drivel that Marvel and DC automatically put out every year without thinking.

    This entire thread seems to celebrate the end of Virgin Comics, but why? What did they ever do to anyone, except put out interesting books? People’s jobs have been lost, don’t forget. Someone gets slighted at their NYCC booth, and suddenly can’t wait for their downfall?? Why is everyone so cynical? Do we want Marvel and DC to be the only publishers of comics??

    And whilst Marvel and DC may have a pre-existing market, it’s evident they have no idea what to do with it or how to move forward from it. Their strangehold on the industry is indeed that, a strangehold, that suffocates diversity and true creativity. If they can’t embrace the new, well it seems why should anyone else.

  45. Aniceto Pereira says:

    I am from India.

    Some of us in India are struggling with very different notions of the kinds of comics we’d like to see in this country – Virgin represented the worst element of that mentality – a plantation mentality. Virgin’s game plan was to milk creative talent in this country (giving them an oppurtunity) to create ‘product’ for the U.S market. In the 1800s till India’s independence in 1947, the East India Company would take cotton grown in India to mills in Manchester and ship the finished goods back to India – Virgin represented the new colonials for Indian comics – Other Indian comic publishing companies like ACK, IBH, Raj are solely Indian based. Virgin didn’t see India as a base for their comics – which is fine because its target audience was American. Virgin’s pay rate to some of the people I’ve met who have had the pleasure of working for them is really good – which is excellent because comic book illustration in this country is not seen a real career so few do it. My sole problem with Virgin remains with the issue of creator’s rights (which Ashok Banker – an Indian novelist and former writer for Devi can testify to) – Virgin would not give any of it’s writers rights to their creations. While you may point out the cases of Marvel and DC – almost every single alternative comic publisher in the states offers complete creators rights for any creator owned title under their banner from Avatar to Viper Comics (dunno about Zenescope). A lot of people may argue that if a company pays you to develop its own creations, you’re entitled to no rights for whatever you create. I totally agree with that point. But a lot of people don’t know is that almost everywhere else in the world (and entirely in Japan and Europe), comic book creators own their own creations. They exercise complete control.

    I’m including here a letter I wrote and sent to several papers in Mumbai which were fawning over Virgin Comics. This letter was truncated and all remarks and criticisms of Deepak Chopra were removed when it was published because it appeared ironically (and as a complete surprise to me) on the one day when Deepak Chopra was the guest editor of the ToI..
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________
    The first time I heard of this new venture, I decided to look into it. I’d heard Shekhar Kapur was going to do comics in India and I wanted to check out what was up and coming..

    Here’s what I think after having looked at the venture- this is exactly the kind of rubbish that we don’t need here in India. I’m very tired of having to deal with glossy superficial patriachal Hindi films, dull plodding English verse by Indian authors and now in the one realm left in India so far untouched that actually has potential for writers and artists to find thier own idiom, We’re about to lose that too. See I’ve read ‘Spiderman India'; I read it at a friends place and I laughed my guts out.. This was possibly one of the worst comics I’d ever read.. worse than anything Image produced in the early 90’s akin to Rob Liefield’s best work or the half naked comics that Top
    Cow publish. This was some horsehead’s impression of India. and this is what they believe the Indian market wants or India is like. I only buy Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday and the Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch from Gotham when they publish the books intermittently. They’re probably the most different and satisfying comics in thier lineup. The rest of the stuff is the commercial mass marketed flogged to death soap operatic storylines of the marvel and dc superhero camp- badly written, posingly drawn and all outtripe. I find it next to impossible to read Spiderman anymore- It’s just silly- I’ve got a cousin whose a teenager in the US and this is not the kind of book she would relate to. American mainstream comics are increasing turning towards an adult fanbase with the same fanboy taste as when they were 12.. The result is something halfbaked.

    No one is really listening or feeling the pulse of the people or the youth here. Not in our media, nowhere. I believe that we need comics now more than ever given the impotence of the other media; to tell stories, all sorts of stories, not just the superhero or fantasy genre. I’m all for more black and white comics or two/four colour, for stories told on the dark side of Indian life, for more short story telling not in the present saccharine induced Tinkle way but with the more mature intimate manner of Ruskin Bond or Premchand, stories for teenagers that don’t talk down to them, comic journalism like Jo Sacco does or Angst ridden bios like Pekar. Keep it simple. Keep it cheap. And comics are cheap, very cheap to produce. It shouldn’t cost more to buy a comic than to buy a newspaper. That’s the level of cheap we should be looking for. And that’s what I intend doing- in the next two years. Comics have to originate as a form of expression from someone here not there. I loved Sarnath Banerjee’s Corridor- it’s an original. We need more original writing.

    Why are NRIs producing these comics. I personally believe that they have nothing to offer us. No offence to Deepak Chopra, Shekhar Kapur, thier sons and daughters but please think about what you’re doing. I’m excited about comics. I’ve read and I know my history. You guys are gonna fold very quickly in the comic dept though maybe not the animation dept. You’ve not got the product quality to back you up, am saying this judging by the hype and absolutely no info about the writers and artists of the books themselves. That aside I will pick up Shekhar Kapur’s Devi – if it’s anything like the Bandit Queen, it will be class act in itself.
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Well a few comments to add to that – Gotham also published Waid’s run on the Fantastic Four (which is really great fun), Ultimate Spider-Man (the best spidey stories until the new bi-weekly series of AMZ) and there were some more including a nicer pocket size reprint of Miller’s DK – I gave all my old Gotham Comics a year back to a children’s library – but they were fun while they lasted..

    I spent the last three years reading comics – and except for a few abortive efforts; did not end up making any. So I apologise for that remark.

    I stand by what I said entirely – and while I deeply respect Shekhar Kapur for the movie ‘Bandit Queen’ – I didn’t like Devi one bit – the ‘Bad Girl’ genre of comics don’t interest me.

    Jimmy – I love your work on Painkiller Jane and man I gotta say – I love the Jonah Hex stories – They’re amazing and one of the few monthly comics I make it a point to read. I don’t doubt you had good dealings with Virgin. My own issues with Virgin are because they represent everything I’ve come to loathe about companies that pirate and ‘strip-mine’ culture and myths. For another company similar to Virgin, look up Vimanika Comics.

    Cheers all…

  46. I am Indian, and I didn’t see anything in Virgin Comics that held the interest of Indian comics readers. Distribution was extremely poor in India, and even though the artwork was good, tinkering around with ancient mythology is no child’s play. Every Indian knows Lord Rama, just as every American knows Superman. Can Superman, for example, be a black man? Nope. Sure enough, you cannot change the basic template of Indian myths, and package it for a western audience. The bluff will be called sooner or later. And its no good for either american or indian comics readers. Creators will have to go back to the drawing board, and maybe for once look East instead of West. Why is manga such a successful business? And why successful manga authors are far wealthier than their american counterparts, baring a few of course. Maybe, there’s a lesson to be learnt from manga for Indian comics creators.

  47. Aniceto Pereira says:

    I agree with Bharath – Its not surprising that the richest female artist in the world is Rumiko Takahashi (Mermaid Saga, Inuyasha, Ranma 1/2) – thats because of the way the manga industry works – its a tough place but it rewards excellence (and good storytelling). Name me a single comic book writer in the US who has made that much money even the more popular writers like Ellis, Ennis, Morrison or Gaiman… The publishers have made tons of money, but everyone else works at scale and has no real rights over their creations. That’s what makes DC, Marvel, Virgin and any of the others who follow this pattern so repulsive – they’ve made comics inaccessible, manipulated a finite market into buying into their version of reality, robbed creators of their visions and under the pretence of job security kept the best creators on a leash working on the company’s characters…

    Dennis Kitchen rulez…

  48. Hi Ceto,

    how you doin my friend?

    K.v
    Vimanika comics

  49. Bharath,

    check out SUPERMAN: RED SON by Mark Millar. It reimagined Superman as a communist and sold pretty well too. :)

    –m

  50. Hey Saurav

    Hws it going?

    K.v
    Vimanika Comics

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] [Top Story] In what must be the least unexpected news since Platinum Studios put the screws to Hero by Night creator D.J Coffman, both Heidi MacDonald and Rich Johnston report that the international conglomerate Virgin has effectively pulled the plug on its Virgin Comics division. Let’s go with Johnston, shall we? [...]

  2. [...] August 26th, 2008Author Kevin Melrose Publishers Weekly confirms reports circulating yesterday that Virgin Comics has shut down. [...]

  3. [...] Here are some pics to show how we put together art for the book Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper, Series Two! Given the recent news about Virgin Comics, the future of the series is uncertain. So this may be a sneak preview, or it may be rare, unpublished art! [...]

  4. [...] Here are some pics to show how we put together art for the book Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper, Series Two! Given the recent news about Virgin Comics, the future of the series is uncertain. So this may be a sneak preview, or it may be rare, unpublished art! Script by Jeff Parker, layout by Ron Randall, pencils and inks by Ron Chan, and colors by S. Sundarakannan. [...]

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