Friday, May 29, 2009

Marvel gets it and DC doesn't.

Today I discovered that Marvel seems to completely understand something that DC doesn't seem to grasp at all.

It has to do with marketing their products.

On the desk in front of me is the "Marvel Reading Chronology 2009", a free publication send in quantity to retailers which presents "Marvel's stock of in-print collected editions inventory organized in a fun new way!"

This publication is, perhaps, the single greatest marketing tool I've ever received from a publisher. One of the things I do for Big Monkey is produce guides, both to specific publications and to topics. For example:

While I have done guides for eras, topics, and creators, I hadn't done any yet for particular characters. I was dreading the quantity of research needed to identify all the appropriate TPs, GNs, and HBs for all of Marvel's characters. I'm not exactly an expert on the history of the Hulk, ya know... .

Marvel, wisely realizing that customers are interested in boning up on particular characters and that it's a easy avenue of approach for retailers, has compiled these lists quite thoroughly in this new publications, which is colorfully but elegantly arranged, and includes pictures of the all the covers, what each volume contains, and who its creators were.

It's so obvious.

To Marvel. But, not to DC.

I spoke with my DC rep today to convince them to do something similar. I got some palaver about checklists of the titles involved in crossovers being listed on the DC website. That's nice, I said, but you don't seem to understand. I couldn't even get an understanding that retailers need a visual aid to sell Showcase and Archive Volumes (which are simply impractical to stock in full-- there are way too many, and, while they are wonderful and unique offerings, they do not exactly fly off the shelves). Yes, DC thanked me for having given them that idea in a previous conversation, and they were planning on making a checklist of those, too.

Yes, that's nice, I said. But you don't seem to understand.

I want a publication, something that... that combines words with pictures of what the words are taking about. I need a piece of writing with attendant images, a sort of... graphic literature. Can't DC produce some form of graphic literature that I can use to promote my sales of your products...? Surely, DC, you have some grasp of the power of combining pictures and words into a unified whole for the presentation of an idea or story?

I've stated before that Marvel's approach to comic books is more rooted in the visual than DC's approach, and that DC's is more rooted in the verbal than Marvel's. Ordinarily, I'm fine with that. Ordinarily, I like that.

But, oh, the comic book irony...! Unfortunately, it seems to mean that Marvel understands the need to create for retailers easy visual references to their products.... and DC does not understand it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

  • That in Metropolis guards discuss existentialism.
  • Leland McCauley? Really? That's... very strange. But just a coincidence, I'm sure.
  • Batman teams up with the Haunted Tank.
  • Hal Jordan, disarmed.
  • That Vixen, Firestorm, and Green Lantern were the ones to confront Hardware.
  • "Seems like twenty years ago but it really wasn't." Heh.
  • I have a feeling we should recognize some of those people at the party, looking at us. Do you?
  • The truth about Tom.
  • Sinestro, on love.
  • The Shield, and Static, on the big screens.
  • Thank you for remembering what Vicki Vale originally was: a photojournalist who suspected Batman's secret identity. And a scantily-clad sexpot.
  • Kung pow!
  • The Queen of Fables' favorite drink.
  • "Luciphage". Nice.
  • I trust you, Todd!
  • The Shield still lives in D.C.
  • Why Mon-El's powers keep winking out, which is perfectly consistent with why Superman was never able to cure lead poisoning.
  • Leslie's bodyguard.
  • Now, there's the missing member of the original Justice Society!
  • Batman, on book burning.
  • Yes, Courtney; Albert is dense. How could you not have noticed?

Friday, May 22, 2009



is really the final straw. In case you can't access that link, I'm referring to this:

In this third issue, Bo aids Lockjaw, Lockheed, Redwing, Hairball, the new Frog Thor, and more super-hero companions in their quest for the Infinity Gems, which will lead the team to the bottom of the ocean and bring them face-to-furry-face with Giganto.

Retailers have witnessed firsthand the kind of attention a comic can receive when associated with the word “Obama.” The mainstream press had a spotlight on Bo even before he stepped paw in the White House, and adults and children alike remain infatuated with the First Dog, so make sure you order ample copies of the third issue.

Joe Quesada, I call thee harlot. Marvel, I damn thee as a whore.

Look, I own a comic book store, so I'm certainly empathetic with the desire to sell comics. But, really, Marvel. The president's dog?! That's just not right.

You want to know why people don't respect superhero comics? It's not just because they are fantastical in nature. It's because of things like Tim Gunn wearing the Iron Man Suit ("This glowing area, Tony; this worries me. Is this really practical? Attention-grabbing, yes, but have you thought about how well it will wear?").

Now, I know DC can occasionally indulge in such pop culture dalliances (ahem, Superman versus Muhammed Ali, anyone?), but Marvel is a much more serious and frequent offender. DC's a classy lady who sometimes has too many martinis and abandons her virtue for an evening to a smooth-talking beau. Marvel's a crack-whore wandering the street night and day looking for the next loudly-dressed passing fad to feature; "Hey, wanna me to put you inside my pages? All it costs is your dignity!"

Ever hear how Marvel got stuck with Dazzler, the Roller Disco Diva? Remember Razorback, with his mutant power of super-truckdriving from the CB radio era? And those are just a few fads. The list of shameless uses of real-world personalities to bolster sales or make Marvel stories "more realistic" is nearly endless. The awful, terrible, and vaguely racist back-up story in Spider-Man 583 where President Obama is used in a story ripped off from an old Booster Gold comic book is just one of the most notable examples.

Am I being snooty in my pretentions for superhero comics? Is it self-deceiving to think that my favorite part of pop culture should hold itself aloof from other parts of pop culture?


But there is an objective problem with Marvel doing this sort of thing. Unlike most of the pop culture references it's making, the Marvel universe (or any other comic book world) is ideally an on-going enterprise. Its characters outlive (one hopes) the fads and personages who are intruded into its world from ours. But every time a "Tim Gunn" meets an Iron Man, a story and everything in its pinned to a point in time like a butterfly stabbed with a pin. In DC's fast and loose "continuity of the week" environment this is less painful; as long as the story is never referred to again, it doesn't really exist. But Marvel and its fans are famously slavish to their continuity. The combination of dated cultural references and guest-stars with an iron-clad continuity fetish is irreconcible and deadly... .

Marvel began as Timely, and tries to be timely still. But when you live by the sword you die by the sword. And if Marvel's characters seem less iconic and timeless than DC's, it's partly because Marvel is more interested in getting icons to appear with their characters than getting their characters to appear as icons.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Banner Day!

The oomphy new banners I ordered for inside at Big Monkey have arrived; huzzah!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Haikuesday Rebirth

I love the fact that at DC, everything old is new again. As it is in heaven, so shall it be on earth-prime, so today is the return of an old favorite here at the Absorbascon: Haikuesday.

As we've long since learned, heroes like to show their mettle not just by saving the innocent, protecting society, and stopping evildoers. They like to do those things while spouting haiku.

Why? Because they can.

Or, at least, some of them can. Interstellar dullard Hal Jordan probably couldn't command his ring to compose a haiku for him, and can only understand 575 as the sector where that brick-shaped Green Lantern is stationed or some kind of new plane he's yet to wreck.

By contrast, Barry Allen is an ingenious scientist, the kind who invents revolutionary expandable micro-fiber costumes, casually and off-panel. I mean, even the Spectre had to sew himself a costume.

No wonder these two police officers made such a natural comedic duo in the Silver Age, Barry the brainy, low-key stone-faced straight-man and Hal the brain-dead, accident-prone, eye-rolling slapstick comedian. Barry and Hal are the Tango and Cash of the DCU.

So, while Barry is analyzing the evidence at a murder scene that could threaten all the speedsters of the DCU, Hal is all "hey, let's go to a party tonight and I'll ring up lampshades for everybody!"

Barry puts Hal in his place with a firm haiku, as if to say, "Wally, like you, you moron, is merely a tool in my personal fight against crime. For I am the crimson-hued avenger, I am the lightning bolt that illuminates the dark night of crime, I am the Batman of the Mid-West. Particularly now that I'm driven by my heretofore unmentioned father's false imprisonment for murdering my mother." Not that Hal would notice, of course...

This is Wally's perp.
He'll know how to deal with this
better than I would.

What haiku can you, my brainy, low-key, stone-faced readers, compose to honor Barry's return or condemn Hal's density?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pep 20: Great fiery swastikas!

Pep Comics heroes do not mess around, boy.

If you are an evildoer they will not waste time in fisticuffs or badinage. They will not trouble to take you to the police. They will not have harsh words with your parole officer or your parents.

They will simply chain you in a pit, and set a crushing, oily iron swastika on top of you. Then they'll set it on fire.

And just stand there and watch.

Do not mess with Pep Comics heroes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Go-To Guys

All heroes/villains are not interchangeable. Oh, back in the day, perhaps, there was an almost disturbing similarity between characters; every hero was pretty much the same as every other, just with different abilities. Villains sometime had a theme that helped distinguish them from one another, but that seldom amounted even to a difference in style let alone substance.

Nowadays, we've put some more tools in our literary toolbox to make the writers' job easier. Not only are there varied heroes, villains, and secondary characters, but many are specialized tools for special jobs. They are the "go-to guys" of comics, and deserved to be recognized as such.

For example: you want to write a story where crazy, impossible things happen, particularly ones that are cool to draw like protagonistic dismorphia. And you may to set a bizarre situation or problem to solve, not just a simple bank robbery. But in the end you still need a villain who can be taken out with a punch in the jaw. Who do you go to....?

Abra Kadabra.

He's as goofy or as terrifying as you need him to be!

Let's see, with Abra Kadabra I can...
turn Superman into a puppet

turn Jay into a turtle

and force heroes to race to their deaths.

And why...? That's the
best part. Abra Kadabra's motivation is the same as the writer's:

he just wants you to be entertained.

Ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause for our first Go-To Guy: Abra Kadabra.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pep 19: Ten Signs

10 cover signs you are losing control of your comic book.

Some guy dressed like Batman gets a more dramatic entrance.

Instead of fighting bizarrely garbed freaks you're fighting slow-moving extras from the Sound of Music.

Your sidekick looks bored silly and disgusted with it all.

You're not Aquaman, but you're still guarding submarines.

Your opponents don't outnumber you.

The artist feels the need to draw motion lines.

You keep forgetting to point your toes.

The text warns criminals about the guy dressed like Batman, instead of you.

Your main activity is falling.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Citiizen Superhero!

Citizens! A school teacher needs your help!

My friend Travis Greenlee is a civics teacher who's using superheroes as a way to teach civic responsibility to the young. How very laudable!

His "Citizen Superhero" project is in its infancy and could use some babysitting.

1. If you are a teacher or know a teacher who might be interested in Travis's project, please contact Travis.

2. Check out Travis's blog, Citizen Supehero, and add it to your feeds.

3. Travis needs as many superhero quotes as you can give him, quotes wherein heroes talk about responsibility, and society, and why they do what they do. Travis is not as well-versed in comics as you are; please harness your expertise to his efforts.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Pep 18: Who IS that poor guy?

Wow; is this the perfect Pep cover or what?

The centerpiece is, of course, the Shield entering from Stage Right, as usual, and on and oddly slack rope. He's mated again (third time now!) with that poor green schmuck with the pointy ears and purple dress.

Who is that poor guy? A heavily tanned Vulcan stranded on earth due to his illogical fashion choices? A deformed Coluan B&D master? The love-child of Killer Croc and Black Adam, wearing Catwoman's hand-me-downs? And what did he do to deserve drubbing by the Shield, on three covers, no less? Don't just sit there, Geoff Johns; give him a tragic backstory!

Regardless, the Shield's got him trapped in the steel thighs of justice and you know what that means: a steaming dose of the Shield's patented Minction Method of punishing the wicked, symbolized by the usual pale yellow stream from above. Open wide, evil-doer, and drown in the waste-product of decent society! Oh, but for the full scene, kiddies, you have to buy the comic!

One wonders, however, whether elf-ears will really mind. Given the scene he's currently engaged in with Little Miss Push-Up swinging in the background with her Ankleweights of Naughtiness, he may actually be into that sort of thing! Rumor has it, William Moulton Marston had a subscription to Pep.

And poor Dusty! With the advent of the Hangman, he's lost his post on "Crashing In" duty, and has been relegated to grappling with the towelboy. "And stay down!" "I was already down, sir!" "SHUT UP!"

Last, our new addition, the Hangman. When you're a crazed, bloodthirsty vigilante, dressed almost exactly like the villain, you can sometimes forget that you don't actually have any superpowers and wind up crashing through ceilings made of stone...

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Different Kind of Free Comic Book Day

Sure, it was a bad hair day yesterday, but I still managed to drop off $700 worth of comics each to Children's Hospital and the local USO. Most of the comics aren't pictured; they aren't that expensive yet!

This donation was made possible by the kind folks who participated in the Big Monkey Benefit Party, either by buying things at the party or making a contribution from afar.

At both facilities our contacts were delighted by the contribution, assuring us that such donations are of great value to the kids and soldiers. In fact, at the Children's Hospital we were shown that some of the waiting rooms are decorated with large images of comic book heroes, and that they are used to inspired the children to be brave while visiting.

Both CH and the USO are happy to serve as hubs for distributing our contributions to the various hospitals and clinics they operate in the metro-area. They are eager for as much as we can give them, so Big Monkey is hoping to have another benefit party soon, which we hope you can attend.

P.S. I got my haircut last night.