Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My quest to open a comic store


I got my first real job when I was 17. I was lucky that I didn't absolutely need one until then, but it came when the owner of my local comic store needed someone to cover while he went on vacation. As a patron for the store for as long as I could remember, I was more than happy to step in and help out.

After that, it became one of my two Summer jobs during college. A year after college, I moved back to my hometown so my wife could go to grad school, it was 2007, the economy wasn't doing great and I had a hard time finding a job for a while, but the store was there for me and helped put much needed cash in my pocket.

When I found a regular day job, I worked at the store every Saturday and covered when the owner was out. That lasted until my wife got pregnant with our third child. I never really left the store per se, I set up all the social media accounts and tried to sway what was carried in store and how the operation went.

For years, the owner and I always talked about me taking over or opening my own store whenever he was ready to pack it in. Frankly, owning a store has long been a dream and ambition of mine. But, I didn't expect the call to come shortly before Christmas.

After running a pretty successful sale for the owner, he gave me the news - he got offered a real job and he was finally able to move on from the store. After 28 years, this was a longtime coming for him and he'd been ready to shut the door whenever the right opportunity presented itself. He'd lost interest in recent years, and as a lifelong Marvel reader, the state of Marvel throughout 2017 pretty much assassinated his enthusiasm for the industry as a whole. Although overall sales lagged, the store remained above - or treading water.

After I got the news and processed it, my first thought was this: "Okay, it's finally time."

I never wanted to open a store that competed with him. He was the last store standing after the '90s boom and I've always been pretty loyal to him - as a customer, worker and friend.

We had some discussion about me buying the store outright, but, long story short, the numbers weren't adding up and it wasn't a workable situation. Thus, he kicked off his Going Out of Business sale. After that, I got to negotiating the lease with the landlord. He gave me a great offer, but he needed to know immediately and I didn't have anything in place adding to the overall risk. In other words, it wasn't on my terms, which is a bad way to start a business.

Add in that I have a solid day job and things tend to get a little more complicated. I would absolutely not leave said job, so the biggest issue became finding a handful of trustworthy people to run the store during the day, and in a relatively short amount of time. I had a couple old friends willing to help out, but it wasn't enough to make the full commitment in time for the landlord. Trying to pull together a store of this nature is risky enough, trying to do it in a month with these factors just adds to the overall heavy lift of getting it off the ground, and ultimately, growing the business. Part of what makes a store great is the personality, and one thing I want to do is make sure my love of the business comes through and I need more time to do that.

In the month or so that opening my own store finally became close to reality, I heard opinions from every side. Not to mention the constant barrage and criticism of the industry as a whole, so I was fully prepared to deal with the "are you crazy?!" type comments.

Do I think the comic book industry could use a kick in the ass? Absolutely. But I also don't believe - and see evidence - that comic stores are falling victim to the same fate that other retail outlets suffer. Comic stores have to evolve beyond the monthly and weekly books. Lots of stores fall victim to high rents, and that's unfortunate, but many stores don't totally evolve to match the market. It's a tricky market and I don't pretend to know everything, but comics and pop culture have been constants for 80 years and I don't think they are going anywhere.

I'd do A LOT of things differently than the owner of my (now defunct) store. And by A LOT, I mean I'd focus on different areas like subscriptions, a massive online presence, collectibles, heavy focus on graphic novels. I'd also introduce other products like retro and used games, second-hand DVDs, collectibles and what not. Not to mention there'd be more events like signings, involvement around town, the whole nine. You've also got to follow trends: for example at New York Comic Con, the most common T-Shirt I saw worn was The Bullet Club, so yeah I'd carry those.

I've always wanted to open and run my own comic store. My hometown is a decent market for this kind of specialty shop, and timing didn't work out this time around. I'm still looking into it fairly aggressively, but many factors such as timing, capital, strategy and growth potential are certainly still at play. Plus, maybe it's time for a new location and a new outlook. While being next to the lingerie store has been an adventure the past couple of years, it doesn't help the stereotype.

There's also the fact that the comic market (and I'm including pop culture broadly) is VERY difficult to explain to someone who really doesn't understand it. Sure, business is business and economics is all that really matters, but these specialty stores are a unique beast.

I'm hopeful it works out, I just need more time. I'm not one to give up on accomplishing goals and making dreams a reality.

In the meantime, check out my Kickstarter campaign for The Atomic Thunderbolt #2!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Being a Comic reader without a store...


Lots of chatter about the comic book direct market lately. 1) A lot of it is totally Marvel's fault and I've got some thoughts on that for another time. But anyways... so this week A Timeless Journey - my comic shop in Stamford, CT, which I have been a part of for the past 17 years and have gone to since I can remember - announced we were closing. This is due to the owner getting a new opportunity and the time just being right. A lot of these other shops I see closing are in ridiculously high-rent areas and haven't totally diversified products etc. (painting with a broad brush here). Truth be told, I am looking into opening a new store or continuing the legacy of A Timeless Journey, as has always been an ambition, but I noticed something this week that I always knew was an issue, but really experienced it for the first time.

I've always had access to a comic store... if it wasn't A Timeless Journey, it was Dream Factory/Flamingo Street in Norwalk. In college, it was Comics for Collectors in Ithaca (and for the semester in LA, Meltdown)... whenever I go to any town, I sniff out the comic stores (I used to drive from Lake George all the way down to Greenfield Center to go to the original Comic Depot when visiting my parents on college breaks). Oh, and at my grandparents during summers in middle and high school, I could always ride my bike up to the P&C and they always had the books I needed (yes, grocery stores need comics again).

So, when Paul (A Timeless Journey's owner) understandably canceled the orders, I was left needing to figure out where to get my comics (after all, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I read comics). The two closest options are Heroes in Norwalk (25 mins away) or Aw Yeah! in Harrison, NY (30 mins away). Now, Heroes comes with a little baggage because of a history with A Timeless Journey, so I didn't want to go there just yet, and a regular there told me they were sold out of a couple books I wanted. Aw Yeah! is one of my favorite stores ever and if you don't know Marc, there are few finer people in comics (seriously). But Aw Yeah! would take a not insignificant portion of my day and a lot of time, because I love talking to Marc. I also have to factor in cost in not only comic haul, but time and gas (being part of a store for so long, these were never really factors for me).

So where to get my comics? A first-world, niche problem, sure... but this is also an industry I have some involvement in, so whatever. So here's what I did:

I ended up getting Batman #38 off of eBay because it's sold out. I checked availability with Marc at Aw Yeah! and then had a friend pick up Captain America, Justice League and Iron Fist. Finally, I ordered Green Arrow, Superman and Phoenix: Resurrection from Midtown Comics (which I consider the last resort. If you know comics, you might understand). Many stores were sold out of some or all of these books (Midtown included).

I paid a little more than normal (especially on the Batman issue), but I got my comics for the week (or at least they are on their way). I did find a new store that offered a great discount to fill-in for the time-being to get my books, but more on that momentarily.

I had to go to three different places - two online and one proxy - to get the 7 books I will absolutely read. I say "absolutely read" because I have a massive stack of unreads.

Anyway, this a hyperlocal problem to Stamford not having a store after 35 years - Stamford is city of about 130,000 according to the Census, but the store would serve much of Fairfield County. Also of note, Stamford is a major commuter town for the New York Metro area. Having two stores within 30 minutes may not seem like a big deal - and I've sure been spoiled over the years - but it really highlighted another issue about the comic market... accessibility.

Stamford used to be a big comic town. There were a half dozen stores or more in the 90s, and comics were still available at convenience stores and the grocery store. Nowadays, you're lucky to find them outside a specialty shop. This ultimately hurts readership overall - as is often noted - but it was really wild that I had to go to three different places - two online! - just to get 7 comic books. That - to me - is part of the problem with the direct market. The stock is so limited, and the sales are so mediocre that books like Batman and Superman are hard to track down. In a perfect world, I would have gone to one of the bazillion convenience stores in Stamford - or the grocery store - and boom, there they are.

Part of the problem is return-ability, part of the problem is Marvel's mediocre editorial direction. Also, part of the problem is the general lack of emphasis Marvel - who dominates the most important entertainment market - puts on comics doesn't do anything to push them.

I did find an online outlet that is convenient for my needs and budget, which is great. It's a comic store out-of-state that offered me an easy subscription, a really solid discount and cheap shipping. But I'm a diehard comic reader and a part-time retailer of 17 years, I know how to work my way around the market. Most people don't, and I really wonder how many people, put in the same situation I was, would just drop reading weekly comics completely?

This is one reason I'm exploring finally opening a store of my own. I believe the market has a lot of untapped potential, but I also think it needs to change or else the weekly 20-page comic side of the industry is going to collapse.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi review (SPOILERS)


HEY! Before you dive in, please check out my Kickstarter for The Atomic Thunderbolt #2!

I wasn’t going to review “The Last Jedi,” but what the hell, it’s polarizing and opinions are like… well, you know how the saying goes. Rather than spread my thoughts out over random Facebook posts or what not, I decided to put them here. I don’t review a lot of movies like this – usually just the ones that involve Superman— but because of the cultural significance of Star Wars, the fact it’s everywhere right now, the fact good friends of mine are die-hards and just because I feel like it, I’ll tackle “The Last Jedi.”

I mentioned in my review of “The Force Awakens” that I used to be a big Star Wars fan. While superheroes are my first and one true pop culture love, and I can honestly say I actually prefer Trek to Wars, I loved Star Wars up until the prequels. I did it all, the games, the expanded universe, the toys. I loved it. But the prequels just sucked the love of Star Wars out of me. Not so much “The Phantom Menace” – which I actually recently rewatched and holy crap, that’s a poorly written movie – but “Attack of the Clones” was the one where I lost much enthusiasm for the franchise as a whole.

I’ve never really come back… I’ve wanted to come back, but thus far, I haven’t and I just keep feeling exhausted with Star Wars. I thought “The Force Awakens” was okay. I gave it a 7/10 (I don’t like the number scaling so much anymore, but I stand by it, though it might have been too high). I was and still am completely indifferent to “The Force Awakens.” There’s a lot I like, a lot I don’t. Contrast that to “Rogue One,” which I didn’t do a full review, but I think it’s the second best Star Wars next to “The Empire Strikes Back.” I’ll never forgive it for not including Kyle Katarn, or having even an easter egg reference to “Dark Forces,” a pivotal Star Wars game of my youth, but I love “Rogue One.”

The thing that works best about “Rogue One” is that it’s a movie that you know the outcome going in and it still takes you for a ride. The characters are so likeable and the stakes are so high that there’s genuine suspense and thrills that you otherwise wouldn’t expect. It’s a damn good movie. Compare that to “Revenge of the Sith” – which is the best of those prequels – you know how it ends and after a while, maybe because of the bad acting or the fact you’re just all in at this point – finishing “Revenge of the Sith” is a chore.

Final preface: I still like and participate in the Star Wars lore – not religiously, but enough to know what’s going on. After initially not liking it, I picked up “Battlefront 2” and I actually really dig it thanks to the campaign. I was also a fan of “The Force Unleashed” and still think the secret apprentice has a place in the Disney canon. But I don’t have anything invested in the franchise other than, “hey, I’d love to love Star Wars again.”

Now don’t get me wrong, “The Last Jedi” isn’t a bad movie. It’s not a great movie. It’s decent. For me, it doesn’t push the needle past “The Force Awakens” all that much, if at all. It makes some bold decisions that redefine the saga – some work, some don’t – and some outright kind of make things from “The Force Awakens” a bit pointless.

As usual, there are spoilers here and I’ll do my “Yay, Meh and Nope” scale for what I did and didn’t like about the movie.

YAY

Kylo Ren – I was indifferent to Kylo Ren in “The Force Awakens,” he was a petulant man-baby who didn’t seem all that imposing. There was much more to the character this time around and you could genuinely sense the conflict. It’s also interesting to see his distaste for male authority figures. I mean, he did kill his dad, he tries to kill his uncle, he kills his Sith Lord and he makes Hux his bitch. However, he doesn’t kill Leia and he continually tries to work with Rey. The whole anti-male authority thing is especially interesting during the shirtless scene, I think that was a deliberate choice by Rian Johnson. The character development for Ben Solo was also much more involved beyond some kid who worshipped his evil grandfather. He works much better in this movie.

Rey – I still really like Rey. I kind of don’t care who her parents are (Kylo is totes lying to her), but if she is a “nobody,” it does create an interesting dynamic with huge franchise implications going forward. She’s just some rando who is strong with the Force. No midichlorians, no “selection” by the corrupt and lazy Jedi Order, she’s just a badass.

Killing Snoke – One of the bolder choices in the film. I actually thought it worked, especially when you read into the whole male authority thing about Kylo Ren. It’s surprising as hell that it happens (kind of predictable during the actual scene), but it creates an interesting dynamic going forward.

Rey and Kylo fighting together – After Kylo kills Snoke, he and Rey fight the Praetorian Guard and this scene was the best part of the movie, hands down. Really, this was awesome. There really aren’t stakes involved, but the scene was cool. I have two theories about Kylo and Rey, I’ll get to them later.

Empire Yoda – Yoda showing up was nothing but fan service and a way to get Yoda into the movie. However, I kind of loved that it was crazy-ass Yoda from “Empire Strikes Back.” The completely senile, real matter-of-fact old man that has no problem calling you an asshole… that’s the best kind of Yoda. Also, it was puppet Yoda.

Luke vs. Kylo – I thought this was a cool sequence, even the reveal that Luke wasn’t really there, (once again some questions about the Force). But there are some moments here that are just great filmmaking (Johnson makes a point to show Kylo’s footprints in the ground, but Luke’s aren’t there).

Leia – I miss Carrie Fisher. With the exception of her space dive, I loved pretty much everything about Leia and the way she was portrayed. It’s too bad Fisher is gone and she can’t give the Princess a proper send-off.

Rian Johnson's aesthetic – I don't think this is the best written Star Wars movie ever, but it's 100% one of the most beautifully shot. There is some superb direction and cinematography throughout this entire film.

BETWEEN YAY AND MEH

Benicio Del Toro’s character – Was Johnny Depp busy? Del Toro’s existence in this film is weird. He’s not the droid Finn and Rose are looking for, but he’ll do and he’s conveniently hanging around in a cell until Rose and Finn need him, and they escape! That said, I rather enjoyed his philosophy and the commentary on the war machine, something that is entirely relevant to the real world today.

MEH

Killing Snoke, part 2 – So I do applaud the decision to kill Snoke. It was unexpected, it creates a wild new dynamic, but it was kind of a let-down for what could have been a more interesting character. Thus, I can see why some fans would be annoyed by the decision I know there’s an argument out there, “well, the Emperor didn’t have a backstory in “Empire” and “Return,” so why does it matter with Snoke?” Precedent, that’s why. Had there not be six movies in this saga before Snoke first appeared, this wouldn’t be an issue, but there are so many questions regarding Snoke and where he was 30 years ago when Palpatine and Vader were killed. Where was he during the rise and fall of the Empire, how did he manage to consolidate power? Star Wars is often a political beast. In “Empire” and “Return of the Jedi,” there’s not much history fleshed out to the Emperor, you just know he’s the guy that rules the galaxy with Vader as his sword, but with Snoke there’s much more history to Star Wars fleshed out that I can’t help but be a little let-down they didn’t really go further into explaining him. This is one of those instances where you can’t rely on moviegoers reading all the books and other media that explains what happened between “Return” and “TFA” because casual audiences don’t necessarily dive that deep. Also, how did this all-powerful Sith Lord not sense that his punk ass apprentice was using the Force to turn on a lightsaber and slice him in half?

Rose and Finn – My feeling that the entire Canto Bight nonsense could have been avoided aside, I didn’t mind Rose and Finn. I don’t really buy into the love story that seems to be the end result, but they were fine overall.

Chewbacca Why are you still here?

Force Skype – The Force skyping between Kylo and Rey is interesting. I’m putting it under “Meh” because I thought it needs more behind it and it plays into my questions about the Force. Also, I think it plays into one of my theories about Kylo and Rey.

Overall story structure – At it's core, the main plot of "The Last Jedi" is mostly fine. But when you start breaking it down, there are some pretty large plot holes and odd story beats. But I guess that comes with Star Wars and big space operas, yeah? I mean how else is Rey going to rebuild the Jedi Order with the texts but no training?

Between MEH and NOPE

Finn – Finn was one of, if not THE strongest character in “The Force Awakens.” His arc was clear and had a sound resolution – he defied the First Order and nearly sacrificed himself to stop Kylo Ren. In “The Last Jedi,” he and Rose are sent on a quest. On said quest, they make a really bad judgment call that gets a lot of people killed. I just didn’t care for Finn much this time around, and that was kind of disappointing. He also kind of doesn’t grow as a character, he’s just committed to the Resistance now and follows nearly the same path as “The Force Awakens.”

Poe Dameron – I liked Poe a lot in “The Force Awakens.” I like my infallible, morally righteous characters. However, in “The Last Jedi” I was indifferent to him, which is a bit disappointing. It didn’t help that it was his overconfidence that nearly crushed the Resistance to begin with, but his arc both did and didn’t work for me. He kind of takes on the personality of a guy on Twitter who replies to females with “well, actually…” (you know, mansplaining), which plays into the overall story-arc. It also plays into the male authority idea, but I don’t know if I buy it coming from Poe. It’s an interesting way to go for a character that is generally well-regarded, but there are moments that are genuinely sexist which kind of seemed off for his character, given his admiration and relationship with Leia. If Poe learns from his blunders and applies them in the next installment, then it’s all for the better.

NOPE

Poe Dameron is an idiot – Poe’s defiance of Leia and insistence of bombing the Star Destroyer should go down in history as one of the greatest military blunders of the Star Wars. He gets a ton of Resistance fighters killed, and his actions drive part of the movie (the dragged out chase), thus even making him (and Finn and Rose) responsible for the deaths of the people in the escaping Resistance transports. For someone who was so likeable in “The Force Awakens,” this whole thing didn’t do much for his character. My favorite reactions to Poe’s idiotic strategy have been from real military personnel I follow on Twitter. They have all been completely baffled by the entire affair. 

Captain Phasma – What a waste.

Hux – Hux is pretty lame.

Canto Bight – This entire thing was boring and kind of pointless, save for the stable boy at the end. I guess they had to give Finn something to do. While I rather enjoyed the political commentary and found it to be rather prudent, it could have been done in less time and with something much more interesting.

Admiral Holdo’s sacrifice – I had really no problem with Holdo overall, might have been better if she was introduced in “The Force Awakens,” but the sacrifice play she made carried less weight because she was expendable, and that’s why it didn’t work for me. If you really wanted to go for the emotion, her play should have either been Leia’s sacrifice or – bear with me – Admiral Ackbar’s. The good Admiral is a cult icon of Star Wars and he unceremoniously meets his demise when the bridge of the ship is ripped apart. I actually appreciate it sometimes when characters don’t have big deaths and they just kind of go with little to no fanfare, but I feel like Ackbar could have added more weight to the sacrifice.

Luke Skywalker – The one thing I despised about “The Force Awakens” was the treatment of Han Solo. Luke’s treatment isn’t as terrible as Han’s, but it’s definitely a mixed bag. Overall, I didn’t like how Luke was handled. This seems to be a common criticism of the film. I get the idea that Luke came to realize the Jedi Order was a sham, but he’s a little too over-the-top in his being a hermit. There are so many questions about the 30 years between “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens” that Luke’s whole story just begs for some to be answered. I also don’t think Luke needed to become one with the Force just yet. I think it’s pretty obvious he’ll be back as a Force ghost in Episode IX, but his story-arc could have been stretched out a bit more. I think many of the criticisms of Luke’s handling, including from ark Hamill himself have some relevance. I can understand sending Han off after one movie (despite how much I hated the way he went), but Luke – who once embodied EVERYTHING about Star Wars from the Rebels to the Jedi – deserved more. Hamill’s performance was just fine, weird milking scene notwithstanding, I just felt like one of the absolute main characters of the franchise deserved more.

Leia in space – A few months ago, Disney had a genuine and iconic comedic moment born when Yondu exclaimed “I’m Mary Poppins, ya’ll” and floated in “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2,” in an actually enjoyable moment of corporate synergy. “The Last Jedi” took it one step further when Leia gets sucked out of her command ship, you know, after the bridge is ripped apart, doesn’t die in space and uses the force to float (or fly) back to the ship. It’s a neat idea on paper with the Force being used as a plot device, but I just couldn’t help but think about Mary Poppins, ya’ll, and that’s part of why it didn’t work for me here.

EXPERIENCE OVER FILM

I have this same criticism of “The Force Awakens.” Star Wars is no longer about movies. It’s about an experience. The fervor over spoilers, the polarization of the movie between old fans, new fans, diehard fans, casual fans, etc., these things are not about the movies themselves. They are about the experience that is Star Wars. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but at some point experience begins to take precedence over film and I think we’ve crossed that line. I have zero interest in ruining your Star Wars experience, I have more interest in critiquing the film though.

QUESTIONS

While I like that everything you know about Star Wars was kind of shaken up, it creates a number of conundrums that I think do need answers. For example, Yoda shows up and he really isn’t a ghost. He interacts with Luke and summons lightning to burn Luke’s Force library (Rey has the texts, so okay…). Where is Yoda to appear to Kylo Ren and Force lightning him? The Force is presented as far more powerful than ever before in “The Last Jedi,” which opens up some potential possibilities, but it also creates a firestorm of questions.

OBSERVATION

What’s old is new again – I’ve seen this argument that Star Wars fans were annoyed by how “The Force Awakens” does a lot of rehashing, whereas “Last Jedi” does too much risk-taking. The argument here for the choices in “Last Jedi” is that Star Wars takes these risks to shoot adrenaline into the franchise, to go to new places and toss away the old stuff. That’s a sound argument.

Here’s the problem: In “The Force Awakens,” The First Order is more a cult than anything else. In “Last Jedi,” they are very much the Empire. They did wipe out the Republic’s seat of government, so it’s kind of a natural progression, but they are the Empire. By the end of “Last Jedi,” the Resistance has also evolved. Once again, they are the Rebel Alliance. That’s fine and dandy, especially for branding purposes, but it kind of flies in the face of the “bury the past” themes both in the film and in the analysis. It’s also ironic that the next Star Wars movie slated for release is “Solo,” a movie about the past and a dead character. The franchise as a whole is kind of moving in place, which I think overall adds to my Star Wars fatigue. 

What I also found weird was the way Luke reacts to the blue lightsaber. He tosses it over his shoulder like a piece of junk. Given the choices Rian Johnson makes throughout the film, it’s kind of hard to think he’s not a fan of “The Force Awakens” and wanted to change some stuff. This ultimately is symbolized by Luke tossing the very laser sword that drove the plot of the first film. That’s not really how I read it, but the more I thought about it, it was something worth thinking about again.

THEORIES

I have two theories about Rey and Kylo. 1) Kylo is totally lying to Rey about her parents. It’s a deliberate plot choice to make her believe she is “nobody.” It may very well be the case, but part of me still thinks they are brother and sister or somehow related. (The Kenobi theory is still my favorite. Speaking of which, where were you during all this, Obi-Wan?) 2) Rey and Kylo are totally going to be lovers and rule the galaxy together. Not as evil people, but as the balance. (Or hell, they do it as brother and sister).

OVERALL

Rian Johnson kind of goes all-in with “Last Jedi.” It doesn’t feel like the middle part of a trilogy, it felt like an ending. That’s a problem. I’m sure the Lucasfilm story team will find their way out of it in time for J.J. Abrams to lens flare his way back into our lives, it’s just going to need something beyond the mortal rivalry of Kylo and Rey, especially with all the characters involved that had story-arcs more or less existing for this one movie and tied up by the end. It doesn’t really build to anything except… where we started all those years ago.

It may seem like I disliked the film, I didn’t. I feel about the same as I do with “The Force Awakens.” Kind of indifferent. I enjoyed it overall, but I don’t think it’s the best Star Wars movie by any stretch. It’s got a lot of great moments, and a lot of not-so-great moments, but I wasn’t demanding money back. I think when the dust settles and the Star Wars haze fades, this movie won't hold it's own weight. Ultimately what matters is enjoyment, I thought enough of it to write this long ass review, but it’s easier to write this than to constantly explain my feelings on this pop culture phenomena. If you disagree and enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than I did, that’s awesome and really all that matters.

Friday, November 17, 2017

"Justice League" review: Crisis averted


SPOILERS AHOY! This is my full review of "Justice League." It contains spoilers. So there, I warned you.

Before you dive in... I love superheroes, so much so that I write some superhero comics! I've currently got a Kickstarter campaign going for the second issue of my revival of Golden Age one-hit wonder, The Atomic Thunderbolt! If you like what I have to say about superheroes, or you just like good comics, please support the book and pledge today! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1247701955/the-atomic-thunderbolt-2-rebooted

I’ll come right out of the gate and say it; I didn’t hate “Justice League,” I actually kind of liked it. I wouldn’t call it a great movie, it’s certainly not the worst movie – it’s actually not even the worst movie in the DCEU, that honor still belongs to “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” My expectations were pretty low to be honest, and I knew going in that the movie was kind of a mess and there was some serious course correction at play. But look, I love DC Comics and I want their movies to succeed the way Marvel’s do and the way DC TV does. So I can say with honesty, I was pleasantly surprised by "Justice League." It's a flawed film - I mean, hell, the franchise is massively flawed - but it is enjoyable and I can say I was pleasantly surprised.

That said, I realized around the time the final battle started what “Justice League” was best compared to: DC animated movie, not necessarily one of the bad or great ones... but one of the satisfying ones. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.

When it comes to the DC movies, for me a lot hinges on the treatment of Superman. "Justice League" does something to "Batman v. Superman" that "BvS" did to "Man of Steel." It changes a few key elements of the plot and story. Here, "Justice League" tells us that the world has fallen into chaos and hopelessness without Superman, but "Batman v. Superman" spent most of it's time showing viewers the world kind of hated him no matter what. "Justice League," however, places the previous movies in sort of a vague history. At times it seemed as though, yeah, that stuff happened, but only to serve the current plot, otherwise, it didn't happen the way you remember.


This ends up giving viewers an idea of Superman that is familiar to fans of the character and in line with the classic version, but not familiar to the Snyder vision. This is a good thing, especially when there's been a version of Superman on TV in the past year that has been met with rave reviews and demand for his own spin-off series.

"Man of Steel" is an abomination of a Superman story, and "Batman v. Superman" is an atrocity. Both miss the point of the character and give us a version that is misguided and fails to truly capture The Last Son of Krypton. The rumors surrounding "Justice League" involved Superman coming back as a bad guy, a two-part story and the darkest installment yet. While Zack Snyder stepped down as director following a horrific family tragedy, Joss Whedon took over and the reshoots began immediately following the critical response to "Wonder Woman." The end result was a pretty obviously reshot Superman, a film lighter in tone, a shorter and more generic story, and ultimately a course correction for DC. All of this coming amidst their overwhelmingly positive editorial move with "DC Rebirth" in the comics.

I can say with confidence that "Justice League" is the second best outing for the DCEU behind "Wonder Woman." Mind you, it's light years behind "Wonder Woman" in terms of overall merit as a film, but despite it's flaws, "Justice League" does have some redeeming qualities and it is somewhat enjoyable. Again, it's not necessarily a good movie, and it doesn't really break any new ground, in fact it doesn't really do much, but it's not offensive, dour or controversial in the way "Man of Steel" or "Batman v. Superman" was.

Okay, so I'll do this the way I do all my reviews, with a breakdown of three categories: The Yay!, The Meh and The Nope. Basically breaks down as what worked for me, what I was indifferent to and what didn't totally work for me.

The Yay!

Superman: Sure, he wasn’t in it a lot, but for the first time, we actually get to see Henry Cavill portray Superman. In his brief moments, he actually felt like Superman. He wasn’t the same brooding or melodramatic superhero we’d seen previously. This was the Superman with a smile on his face, a positive outlook and a general sense of wonder. He was there to help, he was less a angsty god and more a superhero. The very first scene in the movie is cell-phone footage of kids interviewing him, and in that one scene; I could tell this was a very different Man of Steel. Compare that to his intro in “Batman v. Superman” when he crashes through a wall and then (we assume) kills a guy.

As I mentioned above, I had read and heard the rumors that Joss Whedon’s biggest influence on the film when he took over was essentially rewriting Superman’s entire role. Given the amount of clearly visible CGI-ed mustache, this would account for maybe 90-95% of Superman in the movie.


I had a big dumb smile on my face when Superman shows up for the final battle - that's the reaction you want when it comes to Big Blue. I can honestly say that I'd love to see a new Superman movie with Henry Cavill (who I've always felt is perfect for the role, but has never had the right material), so long as it's this version and Zack Snyder is nowhere near it. (More on how I'd approach the DCEU going forward at the end of this).

As a lifelong Superman fan and someone who studies the character extensively, I was satisfied.

Wonder Woman: Once again, Gal Gadot was in top form as Wonder Woman. She’s really the highlight of the DC movies. When I reviewed “Wonder Woman,” I mentioned that Gadot didn’t own the role in that film as much as she did in “Batman v. Superman,” interestingly; I felt she owned it once again here – now I really wonder if that was by design. She’s confident in the role and does the best she can with the material she’s given.

Lois & Clark on the farm: This was easily the best-written scene of the movie. I believe it was one of the reshoots given the CGI-stache and Amy Adams almost looking like she was wearing a wig. Anyway, the scene had tremendous emotional weight between Lois and Martha seeing Clark restored. It also felt like a Joss Whedon scene. The DCEU love story of Lois and Clark has had ups and downs, but this was definitely a high point and I was pleasantly surprised.

Steppenwolf backstory sequence: I thought this whole sequence was pretty neat, mostly because of the inclusion of the Greek gods. We clearly see Zeus and a giant, and of course the Green Lanterns. While it was pretty generic in terms of “bad guys wants to conquer, ancient warriors stop him,” the inclusion of Zeus and others won me over.

Second post-credits scene: I joked with someone that the second post-credits scene was the second best DCEU movie behind Wonder Woman. Who knows if it will really go anywhere, but it was pretty neat. (SPOILERS) Deathstroke looked GREAT (and surprisingly similar to the CW version) and Jesse Eisenberg was actually a more recognizable Lex Luthor than whatever he was in "Batman v. Superman."

Classic themes: I’m curious how long Danny Elfman had to create the score for “Justice League.” He was announced as the composer not long before release. Let me just say that one of the high points in “Man of Steel” is the score. The “Batman v. Superman” score is also strong, if not a bit over the top. However, I really liked the inclusion of the classic Batman ’89 theme and the short instances of the John Williams Superman theme. To me it was a sign that Warner Bros. wants to present the more classic and widely accepted versions of two of their biggest characters going forward and frankly, those themes are iconic and have stood the test of time.

Mera: Um, okay. So they ARE making Mera a total badass. Nice. (Sidebar: Amber Heard is seriously one of the most strikingly beautiful people on the planet).

JK Simmons as Gordon: You know what? Okay. I’d watch a Batman movie with Simmons as Gordon. There’s really no reason for him to be here other than to move the plot along via some fan service, but okay.

Superman resurrection: While getting to the actual resurrection is kind of hamfisted, the fight between Superman and the Justice League is actually a really fun sequence. He's disoriented and really pissed at Batman. There's also a genuinely cool moment where Flash is running at super-speed and Superman turns his attention to him in bullet-time.

Batman’s tech suit: The suit actually kind of served no purpose, but it looked damn good on screen.

Team chemistry: Yeah, the team worked. The chemistry between the actors was solid and they all have their moments, especially in the third act.

No one gets murdered and the superheroes save people!: I can't believe I have to write this, but it was refreshing to see Batman and Superman not kill, because they shouldn't. Sure, they lay waste to some parademons - and Batman having some insane firepower is acceptable in this case - but they aren't snapping necks, shooting guns, branding bad guys... instead we get lots of punching of soulless creatures from Apokolips and Superman literally saving an apartment building. (THAT'S HOW YOU DO IT).



Between Yay and Meh

Flash: Inevitably, Ezra Miller’s Flash must be compared to Grant Gustin’s Flash. On one hand, Miller’s Flash brings levity to the film – as The Flash should - but the character is just so inconsistent. There are moments he’s genuinely fun, while there are moments where his awkwardness just comes off as forced and doesn't really fit Barry's character. Definitely a far cry from the acclaimed version on the CW.

Cyborg: I've never been a big Cyborg fan and I grew up with him as a key member of the Teen Titans, and here he mostly serves the plot. There isn't much in terms of character development, he's broody and angry, and portrayed as pretty stiff. The CGI on him looked decent enough, but the character was just kind of flat.

Aquaman: I like Jason Momoa. I like casting him as Aquaman. I'm just so indifferent to him here. He doesn't talk to fish, he just swims really fast and sort of manipulates the water. He's supposed to be the anti-hero, but he's just kind of there. He's got some decent one-liners and a halfway decent scene with the lasso of truth attached to him, but I wasn't left clamoring for his solo movie because of him. (Mera was really neat, though).

The Meh

Superman’s resurrection: As I mentioned, the actual resurrection is kind of neat as is the ensuing fight scene with the Justice League, but the reason and build-up is weak. I’m guessing Snyder’s original two-part version did have evil Superman being a result of the resurrection, giving the team some conflict. In the long run, it’s better that it was scrapped. But here the League has one fight with Steppenwolf, that more or less ends in a stalemate, and Batman essentially says, “screw it, let’s bring Superman back even though the last time someone used the Kryptonian ship we got that weird-looking Doomsday that couldn’t die.” This decision just kind of happens in the middle of the movie, out of nowhere. You know what? Whatever, fine.

Plot: The plot of the movie is pretty generic, which neither helps nor hurts the film: Alien comes for powerful MacGuffin to conquer the world, superheroes get together to stop him. Along the way there’s fighting with each other, figuring out how to work together, etc. Overall, there’s not a TON of conflict among the heroes themselves, which is mostly fine. They all pretty much just accept the fact they’ve got to do the dance and save the world. In the end, “Justice League” played it safe.


The Nope

CGI: The CGI is really inconsistent throughout the film, to the point where it’s distracting. I’m not just talking about Henry Cavill’s CGI-ed non-stache, but there was a clear dip in quality between Steppenwolf’s poor rendering and the rather neat display of Mera’s ability. Part of the CGI feels unfinished, Cavill’s CGI-ed non-stache is more distracting in some places than in others. And yes, Steppenwolf ends up looking like a video game cut-scene character more often than not.

Flash's awkwardness: Okay, so Flash was mostly just inconsistent, but there's one thing I noticed that kind of tied back into a more extreme critical view I had of "Batman v. Superman." Zack Snyder is an Ayn Rand acolyte. He's also into male power fantasies a bit (I mean, have you seen his other movies?!), and I've felt that he's a bit of a "bro" and both aggressive and resentful towards geek culture. When Barry meets Bruce Wayne, he comes off as really socially awkward, but there's an emphasis on his intellect and basically being a "geek." While it wasn't a recurring theme throughout the film, it felt as though this was Snyder again relying on a pretty ridiculous stereotype to make a commentary about "the nerds." But maybe it's just me.

Lois just yelling “Clark!” for all to hear: One of the things that drove me nuts about “Man of Steel” was Lois flippantly yelling “Clark! Clark!” when Clark was clearly supposed to be Superman. She does it again while standing in front of some cops when disoriented Superman is about to kill Batman. Look, I totally get why she had to do it here, and it’s a nice contrast to Wonder Woman calling him Kal-EL moments before, but it just made me think of “Man of Steel” and one of my criticisms of that film. Honestly, we don’t need the explanation how Clark comes back from the dead, and frankly, I don’t care. The sooner we can abandon “Man of Steel” and “Batman v. Superman” as any kind of canon, the better. But c'mon Lois, you're blowing up your man's spot.

Steppenwolf: You really need to do a decent dive into DC lore and the Fourth World to get to Steppenwolf. I understand the original intention may have been that he was a harbinger for Darkseid, but the final product is a generic level boss. I saw a comparison to Malekith in “Thor: The Dark World.” That’s actually really accurate, even though Malekith had a bit more of a revenge motivation. Steppenwolf was more like “I’m back!” Uh, okay. He mentions Darkseid and I’m assuming the Unity – or combination of the Mother Boxes – was meant to be the anti-life equation. But overall, Steppenwolf just served his purpose of being a big enough threat that the whole team was needed. And he’s not even on a mission from Darkseid or anything, he’s just there.

Overall tone: This is a symptom of the course correction and two directors, but the movie can't really decide what it is... at points it wants to be serious and deal with ethics and moral dilemmas, and at other points it just wants to be light-hearted superhero popcorn-fare. It struggles to sort itself out, but this is kind of what happens when you rush these movies into production when the predecessors aren't being well-received. This leaves the film feeling unbalanced and any themes or deeper meanings falling a bit flat. This is definitely a movie by two different people and it shows.

DC fans and movie-goers deserve better and this is a step in the right direction. Look, I love DC Comics and I want these movies to succeed. What truly separates the DC movies from the Marvel movies is curation. The Marvel movies aren't intended as cash cows first. They never have been. All of them follow a formula but they each fit a different type of genre. The DC movies have felt made by committee, corporate cash grab first, quality second. When Warner Brothers essentially gave Patty Jenkins free reign to do "Wonder Woman," we got a really great movie that didn't feel bogged down in studio mandates or one, singular dark vision.

"Justice League" was clearly on it's way to being a disaster, and I do think the disaster was averted. But we should have never gotten to this point where a movie has to CGI-away a man's mustache to reshoot his role. (Sidebar: I will never understand why it wasn't just easier for Cavill to shave and temporarily wear a fake stache for "Mission: Impossible" - maybe Paramount's contract lawyers are just that good). That's perhaps Warner Bros. greatest sin with the entire DCEU. Rushing production and putting out three movies that were critically panned and divided the fan base, then actually releasing a great film and realizing they needed to change direction. It really just shouldn't have gotten to this point.

It's funny, I've always said the success and quality of DC Comics hinges entirely on the success and quality of Superman. This literal movie rebirth of Superman kind of serves a greater metaphor for the DC movies as a whole.

Where does DC go from here? “Wonder Woman” was clearly the right formula and it easily one of the best superhero movies ever made. “Justice League” is not as bad as it was initial made out to be, the shift in tone and outlook is much better than the bleak hopelessness put on display by Zack Snyder. I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that Snyder’s vision was never right for the DC Universe. The casts are exceptional, the majority of designs were great and many of the visuals – Snyder’s strong suit – were memorable. But overall, “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” did not capture what makes DC great. “Justice League” wants to, but doesn’t fully take the leap, though it’s in the ballpark.


What I personally hope Warner Bros. does is take a step back and re-examine the DC properties, not as cash cows, but as modern myths and cultural icons. One of the things I kind of liked about “Suicide Squad,” and even “Batman v. Superman” to an extent, was the idea that these characters already existed in the universe. We aren’t tied up in endless origin stories and that does allow for a little more flexibility.

Many fans are assuming the forth-coming “Flashpoint” movie – if it happens – will be the full course correction for DC at the movies. Give the universe a reboot, Affleck an exit and erase the dour roots of the universe that were set forth in “Man of Steel.” It’s already been said that “Aquaman” will be more of a standalone film, as will “Shazam.” There’s constant rumors about the state of the next Batman movie, and a new Superman movie that has also been said to be “its own thing.”

To me it’s simple: adopt the Bond formula. For example, keep Henry Cavill as Superman – hell, keep that whole cast – but don’t tie it to anything that’s come before, don’t even acknowledge “Man of Steel.” Just tell a Superman story. Apply this to each of the characters and bring them together every couple of years. The universe doesn’t need to be connected like Marvel, and just play fast and loose with continuity.

In a way, "Justice League" and the return to a more classic form for DC is the final chapter in the New 52 experiment. As the comics have shifted back to more iconic and wondrous versions of the characters - away from the darker tones of the New 52 - "Man of Steel" was the first DC movie in the New 52 era and the darker, more brooding elements of the character were evident in the comics following the 2011 reboot into the New 52. As the comics have erased New 52 Superman from existence and returned him to true form, it seems as though the movies have as well - TV certainly did when Tyler Hoechlin played The Man of Steel on "Supergirl" - and "Justice League" serves as a book end to the editorial and corporate reimagining that was the New 52.

Overall, "Justice League" is enjoyable if you just take it at face value, and for me, I felt good about Superman at the movies for the first time in a long time, because he finally felt right. It's not the disaster it's made out to be, quite the opposite, in a way it ultimately works. Yes, I'm nit-picky as hell because I was a film student, but at the end of the day "Justice League" is fun.

If you like my take on superheroes, check out my superhero comic, The Atomic Thunderbolt on Kickstarter!: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1247701955/the-atomic-thunderbolt-2-rebooted

Monday, October 23, 2017

Comics and the Alt-Right


 I'm a big believer in the idea that "comics are for everyone."

For the most part, if you don't like what you're reading in stores or from the big publishers. There are a TON of alternatives available. Sure, the quality varies WILDLY and you may or may not get something that is on par with a Diamond publisher, but you may find something that piques your interest or that is something not being offered elsewhere.

This was the driving force behind my creating Patriot-1. Although I didn't serve, I've always had a strong interest in the military, specifically Special Forces and Special Operations Forces. I'm also a big Tom Clancy fan, so these interests - tied in with my love of comics and Captain America - that's kind of where Patriot-1 came from. I also believe in America as an ideal and how Patriot-1 - like Captain America - can exemplify that.

Actually, I'm going to draw the line. America IS an idea. It's in constant need of improvement, learning from sins and incredible work to continue to foster the idea of what that ideal is intended to represent - a place where all people are equal regardless of race, creed or social status. That's exactly what Superman and Captain America represent - the ideal to strive towards.

I spent years researching, conferring with current and former service members, developing characters, making comics, teaching myself the ins and outs, best practices, creating my own publishing house and all the trimmings before pitching Patriot-1 a few places and ultimately doing it myself. It's been carried by Diamond, it's built a decent fan base, I love introducing the character to new readers and there is an ongoing series in the works.

It's an action thriller, but it has a decent message. That's what art does. It says something about life in some kind of fashion.

Anyone who tells you "comics shouldn't be political" has ZERO idea about comics. The industry rose to popularity - especially in America - with costumed heroes fighting oppression, injustice and crime. Oh, and Nazis. Especially Nazis.

This all brings me to the Alt-Right. Some would call them modern day Nazis. They've been getting much attention of late and they are doing their best to lock themselves in every corner of American culture. Their de facto leader - or at least, most prominent face - the guy who got punched in the face on Inauguration Day, believes in a white ethno-state, which is literally just about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Why, you ask? Well, what's going to count as white? Some broad description of European? Full blown Aryan, which he doesn't match? Because there are a lot of different cultures among Europeans, just as there are many different cultures among Americans.

Anyways, the Alt-Right has created some hub-bub in comics recently. There's been some trolling, harassment of creators, high targeting of Marvel for their slumping sales and push for greater diversity. Well, comic sales are up - and while Marvel has some issues, it's not because of their diversity push or "SJW agenda" as some on the Alt-Right like to talk about.

Apparently, there's a crowd-funding platform for the Alt-Right called Freestartr. Essentially, Kickstarter, GoFundMe, IndieGoGo and the mainstream crowd-funding services want no part of such an agenda. They are independent and private companies that do make money from their service, so it's entirely within their right to turn down projects.

I'd never heard of Vox Day until recently. I don't really know much about the Supreme Dark Lord beyond his Wikipedia page. However, the guy seemed like he had a lot going for him in the 90s and has a formidable following. Anyways, I don't know the guy, but he's inching his way into comics, which is one of my industries, so okay, welcome.

On that crowd-funding platform, he's got a comic called "Alt-Hero," that has raised a considerable amount of money and has roped in legendary Batman writer Chuck Dixon.

I'm not going to sit here and be abrasive or try and pick a fight, but I am going to do what we creators do. I'm going critique the hell out of this project which is allegedly going to "challenge and eventually replace the SJW-converged comics of DC and Marvel."

My dude. I have some bad news about the comic book industry for you.

I'll give you credit where it's due, I don't know the legitimacy of Freestartr, but on the surface it looks like you've raised a decent amount with a fair number of backers. Considering the number of backers plus the potential size of the book and some extra rewards, plus your profile saying you are in Italy, you're going to need a lot of that money to cover shipping.

And further credit, you've got a fleshed out universe, complete with an alternative post-WW2 history. Look, that's no easy feat. Any writer will tell you that kind of universe building it's tough and often frustrating.

Beyond that, the book really needs some work. I'm speaking strictly as a publisher. If you want to be taken seriously in comics - you know, beyond your Alt-Right faithful - at the very least you need to hire a real letterer or get better at it. The lettering is amateurish at best, and would definitely turn off an average reader at one glance.

Speaking of the average reader, if you think you're somehow going to replace Marvel and DC, I look forward to seeing you at Comic Cons across the country. They tend to get quite expensive between table cost, travel, hotel and food, and believe me, they are a GRIND. On top of that, cons have gotten pretty selective when it comes to who they let into Artist's Alleys and the show in general, so good luck. I know A-list artists that don't get space at some of the larger cons.

That's the other thing, you can build your audience in your niche all you want, but if you're going to "challenge and replace" the foundations of the comic industry, you better hope Diamond will carry you. On top of that, you had better hope your pre-orders reach into the tens of thousands and that stores will even carry the book. Subject matter aside, if Diamond doesn't carry your book - or if the logistics are overwhelming (hint: they can be for a small operation) - enjoy cold-calling comic stores already cautious to carry independent and small press titles beyond local creators.

Just to temper expectations, the prospects of challenging and replacing Marvel and DC aren't looking good. When you start selling the book at cons - and you really need to do this if you want any semblance of success - in a general sense you're competing with Marvel and DC, but you're also competing with people on your left, right, back, front, aisle, section, row and overall show.

If you don't distribute through Diamond, you might get a store to carry a copy either through discounted purchase or consignment, but if that book doesn't sell, don't expect stores to keep carrying the book. You'll likely be able to carry it on Amazon, but that's not going to do much in terms of replacing or challenging the big publishers.

I'm not exactly sure what the thread of the story is beyond creating "liberal tears" and frankly, the Freestartr description doesn't really call for much of that. For comics and new characters to have resonance, there needs to be something deeper there. It seems the idea is to simply "trigger," which after some initial buzz, will just fade into the white noise that is independent and small press comics. It appears you want to start some kind of culture war through this comic, but maybe it would be better served if you used the money and effort to create a book that somehow expresses your grievances and the views you're trying to convey in a constructive way that promotes discussion.

This, of course, is part of a broader issue with political discourse, not just in America, but all over the world. Is the driving force of some groups simply just to stick it to the other side? There's ample evidence people are willing to vote against their own self-interests simply to "stick it to (insert political party name)."

Look, I don't share your beliefs and I find the Alt-Right runs counter to the idea of America. It also runs counter to what superhero comics are all about. But I'm not going to tell you what to do with the money you raise and your art. I just think your book needs some work. But hey, if you corner this section of the comics market and make some money, well, that's capitalism. Does the Alt-Right believe in that? I'm asking seriously.

Truthfully, while I am no friend of the Alt-Right or GamerGaters, I don't write this post with ill-intentions or malice in my heart. I don't believe racism and doing things just to "trigger" others have any place American society, and rather than stoking flames of a culture war, I'd rather Americans sit down and find ways to create a better society for people of all races and creeds - as the founders intended.

So really, good luck to you. I hope you find peace.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Superman saves everyone, regardless of who they are


I've neglected this space of late for various reasons, mostly working on a bunch of things. But I'm back today to talk about - surprise - Superman.

Specifically, the most recent issue of Action Comics, which I thought was pretty well done, but has apparently generated some controversy.

Long story short, the mysterious Mr. Oz, who has been pestering Superman and other DC heroes for the past few years, decides to unleash all manner of hell and havoc on the world. It's basically a Pandora's Box of the worst of 2017 - oil spills, poaching, racism - Superman steps in to try and do what he does to stop or lessen the impact of each of these things. Mr. Oz's point is that Earth doesn't deserve Superman.

The main point of controversy that, naturally, threw the Internet and the right-wing into a hissy fit was the moment that Superman saves a group of (implied, then confirmed) illegal immigrants from a hail of gunfire. The shooter is a Caucasian man wearing an American Flag bandana, firing a machine gun. The outrage from the right and the Fox News crew was basically "how dare Superman save illegal immigrants!"


The Man of Steel does his thing, crushes the gun, gets in the shooter's face and explains that the only source of the shooter's problems is the shooter himself.

This entire sequence is typical Superman. This is who he is and what he does. He saves people, he aims to inspire hope.

Let's get the obvious fact out of the way: Superman IS an illegal alien. You know, rocketed to Earth from the dying planet Krypton, found by kindly farmers in Smallville, Kansas... and so on.

If you have an issue with Superman's actions in this issue of Action Comics, you have no idea what Superman is, what he stands for or what he represents. One commentator that took issue with Superman's actions is Fox News host Todd Starnes here: Superman defends illegals against angry American.

Normally, I wouldn't give this type of thing the time of day, but anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Superman. Plus, my 3-year-old just discovered a new love for The Man of Steel and has been running around in a Superman cape for the past few days, so I'm in a particular mood in regards to The Last Son of Krypton.

So, Mr. Starnes, let's dissect your piece on Superman.

You come right out of the gate with an intended inflammatory statement: "The Man of Steel has now become a propaganda tool for the defenders of illegal aliens.

Is that really all you took from this? How long have you read Superman? Do you read Superman comics? Do you know the history of the character? Are you just referencing the Hollywood Reporter piece without reading the context? See, that's the problem with the Fox News types, you take things out of context to infuriate your viewers and drum up support based on false pretenses.

Do you prefer Superman let these people get mowed down and then high-five the shooter while chanting "#MAGA!"?


You say "Superman swoops in and blocks the bullets meant for the illegals." How about "Superman stops innocent people from being massacred"? Are you suggesting that white people upset with immigration laws and illegal immigrants should just start opening fire? The shooter is upset because he feels the illegal immigrants have stolen jobs meant for him. This is a valid complaint on some level, but in the real world I don't see these down-on-their-luck folks rushing out to fill positions held by migrants and or even undocumented immigrants. California could use the help: http://fortune.com/2017/08/08/immigration-worker-shortage-rotting-crops/.

Now your argument is that Superman should have swooped up the illegal immigrants and deported them. This is problematic for a myriad of reasons. First, Superman is not a tool of the US government. Furthermore, are you suggesting instead of stopping those people from being gunned down he should have just deported them. To where? They may not all be from Mexico. Do you suggest Superman divert his attention for world-ending threats to team up with ICE and do paperwork?

You also seem to take issue with Superman grabbing the shooter - who literally just tried to murder people - and telling him to stop, suggesting that the only hatred that has led him to murder comes from within. This is what Superman does, Mr. Starnes. He saves people, he tries to make evildoers see the error of their ways. It's not his place to deport people, but it's his place to save people from harm and to inspire hope in reflection in those who would do harm.

The suggestion you make of "Remember when Superman stood for truth, justice and the American way" is also problematic. In the moment of saving those people from a gunman, Superman stands for those three virtues. Part of the American way is helping those less fortunate, part of the American way is protecting the helpless and welcoming immigrants from all over the world. That's what America is - a country of immigrants. Yes, we have laws and undocumented immigrants crossing the border, but we have pathways and rules for those who contribute to society and most importantly, our economy. We shouldn't be condoning their murder at the hands of an angry white man. That's the attitude that breeds white supremacy.

The very idea of Superman is the idea of America, that an immigrant not of this country - in this case the world - can step up and be the best of us, always do the right thing and present us with an ideal to strive towards. That it doesn't matter who you are, where you are from or what you look like, if you are in trouble, Superman and America will fight for you because it's the right thing to do.


Finally, you turn your attention to Superman publisher DC Comics. Suggesting it's only a matter of time before they unleash "other superheroes in its corporate quest to defend the alien invaders."

Again, do you or have you ever read DC Comics? Or comics in general? Are you mad they sometimes get political? You do understand that superhero comics as we know them today first emerged in the 1940s with characters fighting crime and Nazis, right?

I would point you in the direction of the classic "Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Hard-Traveling Heroes" from the 1970s, It's a story that deals with race, income inequality, drugs and other real-life issues that are still relevant today.


You make the snark remark about Flash wisking illegal immigrants back and forth across the border or Wonder Woman rounding up Texas ranchers "defending their property." I suppose The Flash could do that while protecting his mid-west hometown, sure, but aside from the vigilantism, superheroes mostly operate within the confines of the law. And in regards to Wonder Woman, if those Texas ranchers threatened to start killing people the way the Bundys did, then yes she would round them up to keep everyone - including the ranchers - safe. Also, Wonder Woman - contrary to the beliefs of Fox News - is not an American.

In conclusion, your entire argument is rendered moot, ignorant and spiteful by your closing line: "It's unfortunate that DC Comics is turning its stable of iconic heroes into political pawns – hell-bent on indoctrinating our kids."

Comics have ALWAYS been political. Superman is a representation of America, one deeply rooted in FDR-style New Deal ideology - same with Captain America. But please, fire up the old Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons and watch "Japoteurs" if you want to see some real super-hero propaganda of it's time, and then come talk to me about "new" politicization of these characters.

That closing line brings me back to my original point, what would you prefer Superman do? What example would you prefer DC Comics have him so young readers? Saving people, or letting them be murdered? That's the distinction here because that's what a young reader sees, not the complexities of the immigration argument.

I've been a Superman fan and enthusiast all my life. In terms of literature, Superman taught me more about the difference between right and wrong, being a decent person and being an American almost more than anything else. So if my 3-year-old running around with his new Superman cape and action figure becomes indoctrinated to be a good person, a good American and to fight the ideas of oppression and hate, then the world will be a better place.



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The State of the Comics Industry


San Diego Comic Con 2017 has come and gone. WIth it came a pretty rad “Thor: Ragnarock” trailer, the first footage of “Avengers: Infinity War,” WB continuing their streak of great trailers (“Justice League”), the announcement that the standalone Flash movie would be “Flashpoint” and the first look at so many really cool collectibles that are sure to burn a hole in your wallet. However, there was some news that wasn’t good. In fact, the news is pretty dire and paints a portrait of an entire industry in peril.

Comics have become secondary at shows like San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic-Con and this was certainly the case this year, but along with their third-class status was the harsh reality many of us in the comic book community have - and still have - a hard time accepting: the comics industry is in trouble. Big trouble.

I’m not being facetious, there were two very real alarms that went off during San Diego Comic-Con followed by a third sentiment I’ve been seeing from many creators. The first alarm came during the Diamond panel. The direct market is down 6.3% in 2017, that’s incredibly troubling. The second alarm came in the form of DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, as Lee very bluntly stated the comics industry was on the verge of collapse. This is one of the two major publishers that keep the industry afloat acknowledging the dire situation the comics industry finds itself in.

These two factors alone push the state of the industry into red alert, but comics have been on a steady decline through much of the 2010s. Retail shops close regularly and often with few popping up in their place, some retailers struggle to pay for their weekly shipments and ever since the closing of Hastings, leaving Diamond with a $1.6 million punch in the gut, the sole distributor of comics has little sympathy or patience for retailers who can’t cover their increasingly large weekly shipments.

Who is to blame, exactly? There are absolutely a few fingers to point.

You can point at DC and the lukewarm response to the New 52 and the attempted course correct with DC You. Readers saw fatigue in titles, constantly shifting initiatives and a lack of clear direction. That has since changed with DC Rebirth. Although Rebirth is pretty successful and has restored a great deal of reader faith in DC, it’s been a slow build. To their credit, DC seems to acknowledge this and has used Rebirth as a baseline to tell newer stories that don’t outright ignore history. In addition, I think the smartest thing DC has done in the past 5 years is brand the Multiverse across all medium, but it’s a bit refreshing to finally see them acknowledge there is a problem. Part of the brilliance of branding the Multiverse is they can open up the floodgates for new characters, interpretations of characters and diversify characters, all without doing so at the expense of classic iterations.

You can also point the finger at Marvel. Ever since the rousing success of Civil War in 2006, they’ve doubled down on major crossover events that have become increasingly long and difficult to follow. The sheer amount of tie-ins also increase the cost of trying to follow an event to the fullest and has led to event fatigue. Not to mention that Marvel especially touts their events as “universe changing” and nothing really happens. The most recent “Secret War” was a HUGE opportunity for Marvel to reboot everything and start fresh, but instead the most drastic things to happen were some characters from the Ultimate Universe coming over, some alternate reality time-traveling and general confusion in its wake. Don’t believe me? Explain Old Man Logan or the time-displaced X-Men (namely Cyclops) to someone looking to start reading X-Men. I won’t even begin to pontificate on Hydra Cap, but I will say that both criticisms and support of Secret Empire are equally not without merit.

Crossovers and content only scratches the surface of the steady decline of Marvel. The House of Ideas has an insane amount of books that come out every week and they are typically priced at $3.99. This starts to add up after a few books. The other thing about Marvel - and this is going to be more of a controversial hot take but goes with my point about DC - is that their push to diversify their characters did not go quite as planned.

There’s definitely room for more diversity and comics - and it is sorely needed from the characters to the creators - but Marvel’s approach alienated longtime readers and a lot of potential new readers looking to supplement their movie or television intake. Some of these characters have been Marvel’s approach to “Legacy” heroes, but they’ve come at the expense of classic versions of characters, especially at a time when their most recognizable characters are everywhere. WIth no new monthly alternatives that feature classic iterations or branded versions, readers can be turned off. This has left Marvel in a bind, whether you want to admit it or not. Their upcoming “Legacy” initiative was once again another opportunity for Marvel to clean the slate and reboot, but alas, “Legacy” reveals have been met with a resounding groan from retailers and readers.

An argument was made that the success of movies and TV has contributed to the decline of comics, “why read when you can watch?” To be blunt, I think that’s a load of BS. Graphic novel and trade sales spike when movies or TV events happen. Whatever is being adapted usually gets a new edition and a fresh set of eyes. But when those eyes come looking for something new, they’ll be hard-pressed to find it. DC has righted their course with Rebirth, Marvel still hasn’t quite adjusted.

But blaming just the big two - and Diamond - doesn’t cover everything. Image Comics has also become a source of strife for monthlies. Image has always been a great alternative to the big two, and pricing the majority of their trades at $9.99 is a stroke of genius, but because of that Image also can’t outsell a first issue. Image has new a “#1” pretty regularly, but their books don’t catch fire like “The Walking Dead” did. This isn’t to say Image puts out bad books - they don’t, and neither does BOOM! Studios or licensed property farm IDW, but those market shares are relatively small compared to the others.

These factors reverberate down and affect independent and small press creators as well. This day and age, self-publishing or small press is an effective way to publish books. Kickstarters are plentiful - crowd-funding helps produce books with less potential risk, which is huge - and creators can build impressive portfolios. The caveat is that independent comics have to compete with the big publishers for those dollars. Most creators can’t charge less than $5 for a single issue and distribution through Diamond isn’t always cost-effective. Diamond takes a huge percentage off retail price to carry your book and that ultimately hurts the bottom line if your book isn’t picked up by a publisher, or that distribution cost isn’t factor in to a crowdfund or budget.

Additionally, conventions have become a crapshoot. There are a lot of conventions all over the country and the cost for an exhibition booth or an artist’s alley table is often restrictive. Once again, you’re competing with bigger name talent and publishers - not to mention print sellers - and it becomes an exhaustive grind to squeeze dollars out of potential customers just to cover your table cost. Not to mention, a lot of these cons feature celebrities who often get the easy autograph or photo op dollars.

And of course, given the problems retailers have with sales of the big two, they aren’t always willing to carry a small press or independent title, save for consignment or some arrangement. The likelihood of them ordering a book in the depths of the Previews catalog is slim, and making your book stand out in said catalog is also difficult.

Finally, one note to readers, collectors and speculators. Your comics, unless they are critical issues like first appearances or come from before 1980, are likely not worth anything. They aren’t going to be worth anything and keeping the industry afloat by buying up 10 copies of new #1s isn’t helping the industry. The back issue market is and always will be pretty strong, but the likelihood of any modern comics being worth their weight in gold - minus a few exceptions - is very slim.

Where do comics go from here? The problems with the industry are from top to bottom, publisher to retailer to customer. Dan DiDio and Jim Lee were certainly not wrong to acknowledge the collapsing industry and San Diego Comic-Con 2017 proved that it has become more of a pop culture beast than a comic book show. Do comics return to newsstands? Is it time to abandon Diamond’s faulty direct market model? Should the major publishers take a page out of small press Alterna and print monthlies on newsprint to lower costs and prices? Everyone has a potential solution, despite some creators and publishers insisting everything is fine. Everything is most certainly not fine and the comics industry needs a revitalization in order to survive.

I’ll be there doing my best to keep it alive.