DC Comics “Villains” Month, or “How much more money can we squeeze out of these people?”

1370241151000-Forever-Evil-1-1306030236_3_4_r537_c0-0-534-712Complaining about DC Comics is close to becoming a full time job.

Seems that just about every week, DC does something else that makes me want to smash my head on my computer desk.  There’s even a web page devoted to alerting you when DC does/says something stupid.  I’m not kidding.  It’s http://hasdcdonesomethingstupidtoday.com/

And it’s really worth checking out because I’m not the only one who thinks that DC comics is run by some very unfunny version of “The Three Stooges”.  (The current howler is how photoshop has been used for some upcoming covers and it’s really quite stupendously stupid when you see them all together.)

Anyway, fresh off the “ex-Catwoman” bonanza, DC has announced that September, 2013, will be “Villains” month.  Every DC comic will be taken over by a villain specific to that title for that month with the oh-so-unique ‘renumbering’ of the comic to tell you that “you’re not just reading a usual issue of this comic, boy-o!”

And, oddly enough, a USA TODAY article on the event gives even more information than the standard press release on DC’s site!  Because, you know, why would you tell your fans more than you tell the average reporter.  You can read the DC press release here and the USA TODAY article here.  If you want to.  I’m surprised that I actually did but I do it to save you the pain, dear reader!

And what is the big surprise that’s got the DC PR people dancing and singing in the streets?  Is it an amazing story-line?  Is it great artwork?  Is it a return to heroic values?  Nope, it’s 3-D covers.

4577_4_05Yep, 3-D covers.  If you’ve lived through comic books in the 80s, you probably hoped you’d seen the last of the gimmick covers.  After all, how can one top DC’s own gimmick of putting a plastic shard of crystal on the cover of every issue of ECLIPSO?  Or Malibu’s own gimmick of a bullet-hole through the entire issue of PROTECTORS #5?

But, when you stop and think about it, isn’t killing characters off just as much a ‘gimmick’ as fancy covers?

Anyway, this ‘Villains Month’ will give rise to a seven issue series called Forever Evil meant, I guess, to showcase the bad guys.  (I assume it’s a monthly because I can’t find anything to state what publishing schedule it’ll follow.) It will be written by Geoff Johns with art by David Finch and that’s about all I can tell you because there’s very little in any of these notices to tell you just what the hell it’s all about, Alfie!  Here’s the quote from USA TODAY:

Forever Evil is a chance for David and I to work on all the greatest villains in comic books. It’s literally everybody. I don’t even know if there’s anybody not in it,” Johns says. “We’re really exploring what darkness means and the different kinds of darkness that are within these villains.”

That’s about as vague as a senator’s testimony before a congressional inquiry.

Then, there will be three new mini-series debuting in October that will each last for 5 issues.  So, if we take a conservative amount of 40 regular titles that will have this tie-in for September, 7 issues for Forever Evil and 15 issues for the three mini-series, that gives us 62 issues for this storyline.

A storyline which, right now, we know nothing about other than “bad guys win”.  Which sounds strangely similar to Marvel’s currently ongoing AGE OF ULTRON.  But, you know, these comics ain’t cheap!  Looks like the September comics will all be $4 each while I’ll be nice and say that the other 12 comics will be $3 apiece.  That’s a conservative estimate of about $200 to follow the storyline.

$200 and I’m being charitable because they may have more issues or tie-ins that I’m not aware of yet.

I could buy four DC ARCHIVE EDITIONS for that or even more when my LCS has a “buy one, get one” free sale.  I leave it for you to guess which one I think is the better value.

BTW, see that graphic at the top of this rant which was released officially by DC as a tie-in to Forever Evil?  See what character is near the front of that line?  Because DC’s just slapping you in the face with the whole “Catwoman Dies” from last week because… well, because they can.

Don’t Get Me Started! #1

jjjI used to love comic books.

For a long time, they were really one of the most important parts of my life.  I practically LIVED for each week’s new shipment of comics.

I have two brothers who are older than me (10 and 9 years older, respectively) and they were into comics so, when annoying little brother came along, it was inevitable that I’d get into comics too.  And I was voracious!

I read everything!  I read Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Flash, House of Mystery, Chamber of Chills even NIGHT NURSE!  If it was Marvel or DC, I read it.  And I read anything else I could get my hands on.  Comics from Charlton, Gold Key, Dell, Archie, Harvey, Tower, anything and everything.

Not only that, but I studied comics.  I wanted to know everything about them.  “Who was that character in Brave & the Bold last month?”  I could tell you.  Who created Superman and how and when?  I knew it.  I wanted to know everything about comics not just the stories and the characters but the people who created them.

That’s when, I think, things started to sour a bit.

For those who aren’t aware, comic books have an awful history.  I won’t even get into the allegations that the mob was behind much of the early days of comic books and their distribution.  Nor will I talk about the shady deals and the unfounded lawsuits.  I won’t even talk about the comic book censorship of the 1950s that essentially shut down EC comics and stripped comics of virtually all of their creativity and relevance.  But I could (and just might someday)!

In the 70s, there really wasn’t anything you could call a “comic news network”.  There were a few fanzines but nothing like it is today.  Most of what we did have was concentrated around the stories and characters with not a lot of creator background.

That began to change in the late 70s and really gained speed in the 80s.  The first time I remember really taking notice of the way comic companies treated their creators was during the Siegel & Shuster incident.  As Warner Brothers was making the first SUPERMAN movie in 1978 (with Chris Reeve) and preparing for a massive PR campaign, I started hearing little news items.  It seemed that the original creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster) were living in virtual poverty as a movie that would make millions was preparing to come out.

I was only 15 at this time and didn’t really know a lot about the behind-the-scenes life at comic companies despite having a brother who, by that time, was actually working in comics.  Long story short, the fan community (led, in part, by Neal Adams who was then a creator with a lot of clout with fans) revolted against DC and eventually Siegel & Shuster were awarded lifetime pensions and credit for their creation. (You can read more about this case online and a brief overview here.)

That day made me proud to be a fan.

And when Marvel Comics tried to keep from returning Jack Kirby’s artwork and the fans were there to support Kirby, I was proud again.

We fans had the creators backs and they, and the comic companies, knew it.

I’m not proud to be a fan anymore.

The reason is because, when issues like Kirby and Shuster come up now, the fans take to the internet and social media to express their anger and outrage.  But not against the comic companies.  They’re angry at the heirs of Kirby and Shuster for daring to not only ask for credit or compensation but for daring to risk the end to their beloved comics.

The vitriol I have seen expressed online is truly depressing.  And it’s not even just against heirs of deceased creators either.  Example: Ken Penders recently filed suit against Archie Comics for rights to characters he created for the SONIC comic book.  (You can read about the newest update on that case here.) Many comments on this case again side with the publishers.

There are many other cases like this happening where many of the fans are not on the side of the creators.  They appear, for all intents and purposes, like junkies worried that someone might shut off their supply.  Somewhere, somehow, comic companies have managed to win fans over to their side and I just can’t figure out when that happened.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t buy and/or read new comic books from Marvel & DC anymore.  This is one of them.  I’ll talk about the other one, and why I feel guilty looking at my bookcase of high quality hardcover reprints, next time.

(“Don’t Get Me Started” is an editorial by Sam Gafford.  All views expressed are simply my own and do not reflect any other staffers here at the L.O.D.G.E.)

Alternate Opening for The Avengers, an Improvement

Marvel has released a deleted scene for The Avengers which reveals an alternate opening scene.  Instead of the light-hearted opening with Black Widow casually bantering with S.H.I.E.L.D. as she lays some smack down, the scene would have been a look at the aftermath of the final battle upon New York City.

This would have placed the remainder of the movie as a flashback and changed the tone of the film.  I believe this would have been a positive for the movie, providing a deeper and more mature story that not only showcased the heroes valiant final battle, but also a more nuanced view of the impact of superhero’s and their villainous counterparts on the populace at large.

Check out the scene in HD on Yahoo.

What do you think about the alternate opening? Would it have detracted by making the movie too serious, diminishing the playful adventure tone of the film?  Could it have helped to explain the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its relationship to the U.S. Government? Might it have provided a heavier, more serious overall tone to the movie that grounded the cartoon violence in the lives of average citizens?

Founding Women of The Avengers : 1960 vs 2012

I have numerous philosophical problems with how women are so often presented in media, including sports and entertainment.  For example, I don’t collect risque photo shoots of women athletes.  I believe very strongly that successful women athletes should be celebrities because of their abilities and not have to resort to the sex symbol formula.  I’m rational enough to realize these women do these shoots because the are damn proud of their physical bodies, but it nonetheless rubs me the wrong way.  To me, sport is purer without the sexuality.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not preaching about using women as sex objects.  In the past I have bought playing cards or calendars based on the scantily clad beauties.  My concern is whether or not there is a place in athletics for sex symbols.  I simply don’t like my favorite athletes selling their sexuality.

And I also carry the same view with comic books.  Far too many depiction of women in comic books is “cheesecake”.  So many of our comic book heroines show way too much flesh.  I feel that these women are part of our modern heroic mythology and throwing as much cheesecake as possible on the page does not further that goal.  And so I come to the founding women of the Avengers, The Wasp of 1963 and Black Widow of 2012.  Take a look at these pictures:

Black Widow 2012 and The Wasp 1963

Neither of these women are in cheesecake mode. These are good looking women wearing uniforms that are sharp but utilitarian.  I love this.

The Black Widow of the modern film has much in common with the 1963 Wasp.  Neither has the big splash powers of their male counterparts.  Black Widow is very, very good with weapons but Hawkeye is godlike with his bow.  She is also a sound small unit combatant but she doesn’t have the battlefield brilliance of Captain America.  So in my opinion she is MORE COURAGEOUS than her male counterparts because she is going into a fight to the death with less resources.  Despite fewer resources, it is the Black Widow that closes the gate.

The Wasp in the 1960’s was written as a little ditzy.  Her powers were often belittled when compared to Hank Pym and her mood was more of that of an adventurer.  By all measures, the writers made it clear that she wasn’t as powerful as her male teammates.  But that doesn’t stop her from saving the day her fair share of times.  In one absolute must read (Avengers #8, Sept 1964), it is her quick thinking and tenacity that defeats Kang.  The men have Kang pinned down in Kang’s spaceship but can’t break through his forcefield.  The Wasp flies to Hank Pym’s lab, spots a weapon she thinks would be the right one for the job and then cybernetically commands some flying insects to carry the weapon back to the battle.  Her guess is right on the money and Pym uses the weapon to destroy Kang’s uniform – which unfortunately for Kang is the generator of his forcefield.  Kang flees.

I have always been a huge fan of The Wasp in comics.  Over time she grew into an excellent chairperson for the Avengers.  My favorite moment for her in the 80’s is during Secret Wars.  She is technically chairperson of The Avengers and yet she defers leadership to Captain America.  She knows that they are in deep doodoo and that the Captain America’s power of “Heroic Icon” is more important than the skills she brings, regardless of how superb they are.  It takes wisdom too realize when to relinquish command, and it is contrasted nicely in that series by Storm chafing at being outranked by Cyclops and Prof X.

Scarlet Johansson’s portrayal of Black Widow was phenomenal.  She has mad skills and she uses them effectively throughout the film.  When do or die time comes, she realizes that she is closer in power to the people she is trying to save compared to her male teammates.  But while she frets, it doesn’t interfere with her giving it her all and showing that even a mere mortal without enhancements can help save the day.  Her move to get to the gate is pure heroism.  She goes based on the simple premise that if raw power can’t close the gate, so perhaps finesse can.  And because she decides to go the finesse route, she is the perfect person to send.  She won’t be one to waste time trying powers, get a straight answer out of Selvig is the plan.

These are the portrayals of women I crave.  These are highly competent women without the gee-whizz powers.  Yet they are mission critical because of their heroism.  And they do so without having to show a bare midriff, huge expanses of cleavage or more thigh than you can shake a stick at.  Make no mistake, these are beautiful women and their beauty is part of their selling point.  But it is heroism and beauty they are selling to us, not sexuality.  This preserves the purity of the mythology and for this I am so pleased to have been able to soak in both.

The Procedural: Judge Dredd & She-Hulk

I mentioned a need for a wider diversity of storytelling in superhero cinema.  Alyssa Rosenberg has a great article about two characters who might stretch the stories a bit.  She discusses the dynamics of Judge Dredd and She-Hulk as fully realized, complex characters.  In each case, they are able to pursue different types of stories, as Alyssa notes:

But I think I love Judge Dredd and She-Hulk so much because they’re procedural heroes rather than gods, because they get cranky, and take sick days, and get fired, and because it turns out that fighting interdimensional psychopaths or arrogant wannabes in superpowered elephant suits can be both tense and funny. And sometimes knowing that is the only way to move forward societies that change an inch at a time when they need to move miles.

By placing fully developed characters into the daily background of the procedural, both Dredd and She-Hulk are able to tell different types of stories.  They are able to focus more on the character and how she deals with life as a tights wearing, fist smashing green monster who is also creating her own, very active law practice.

Though She-Hulk is not on the slate for movies yet (and it should be), The Judge Dredd movie, simply titled Dredd, opens September 21st.  This version looks to be much grittier, violent look at the world of 2000AD. It looks to be quite a departure for most of the franchise hero films.  Collider described it this way :

Director Pete Travis‘ Dredd is 100% a hard R with incredibly graphic violence throughout the film’s entire runtime (as taste of what’s to come is on display in this clip).  This movie couldn’t possibly be more different fromSylvester Stallone’s iteration of the character, and I think fans of the comics and/or Judge Dredd character will really be happy with this pic.  That said, be prepared for a lot of violence.

At the very least this will be a different kind of movie.  Hopefully it will be more than just blood for bloods sake and will have some kind of meaning and process of dealing with the repercussions of such violence.  A She-Hulk film could be even more exciting in my eyes.  The procedural format seems to fit perfectly with television. No matter the format, properties like Judge Dredd and She-Hulk are ripe for new and better storytelling.

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