Your Home for Toy News and Action Figure Discussion!

The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 3/26/9

{mosimage}Now with news! Wednesday Comics, co-features, and the price of trades. Reviews for the newest Secret Six, the last Blue Beetle (for now), and old Books of Magic.

News

Time for a change. The column’s been somewhat less than regular lately, and that’s largely due to the restrictions of my chosen format. I need new comics and back issues and trades, and, well, I kinda ran out of back issues. Employee’s Pick draws from the same pool, and there are only so many to go around. I’m also down to four non-Marvel comics in my pull, and one of those, Ex Machina, doesn’t come out every month. That’s less than half what I’d want, ideally. I’d like to add more, but I don’t have that thing what lets you get other things… Yeah, money. That stuff.

Well, plenty of other reviewers talk about news, too. I’ve done some of that here, but it’s always contained to a specific review and I’ll sometimes wait weeks to bring up a relevant nugget because the next issue of Wonder Woman hasn’t come out yet. It also occurred to me that I don’t have a regular outlet for discussing comic book news. I’ve toyed with starting threads on the forum, but never get around to it. This might not be the best place to start a discussion, but it lets me ramble. I’ll pluck items of interest from the news and give my thoughts on them. You’re welcome to take it from there. The DC Solicitations for June are up, so I’ll take a look at those and other items of interest.

Wednesday Comics – DC’s next weekly series after Trinity, this one mercifully limited to twelve weeks and tentatively scheduled for "the summer," implying a short break after Trinity wraps in May. The idea is to imitate Sunday newspaper comics with one or two great big pages – sixteen in all for the fifteen stories per issue. Sounds interesting, though it basically amounts to one issue’s worth of story for each of the fifteen, and that’s if they run for twelve issues; reportedly, some will only last one issue. With a limited format like this, some creators rise to the challenge and fit a solid story into the small space, while others find it too restrictive or fail to understand how to do a self-contained one-shot.

That’s my favorite part about this, that all the info released so far points to it being entirely self-contained. There’s Green Lantern and Wonder Woman and Teen Titans and Metal Men and Catwoman and more, but you don’t need to read this and you don’t need to read anything else if you do. It sounds like way more fun than the previous weeklies, and considering the talent they have assembled for it, quality shouldn’t be a problem. Walt Simonson, Kurt Busiek, Amanda Conner, Karl Kerschl, Ryan Sook, John Arcudi, Dave Gibbons, Mike Allred, Kyle Baker… I’m sure there’ll be duds, but if the hits are good enough, they’ll overshadow the misses.

Backup Features – DC start charging $4 for select series, but unlike their chief competitor, they’re adding genuine content to justify the price, in the form of a second story. It’s like Origins & Omens, only this time it won’t take any pages away from the main story. That and they’re proper stories instead of a glorified recap. One more reason why DC > Marvel. The backups will apparently be eight to ten pages long. Since comics typically have twenty-two story pages, an eight-pager means the 33% price increase is a good value on a per page basis. That still leaves the question of whether you want more pages of some other character in a comic you were buying for $3, and the much tougher question of whether a backup story in a comic you weren’t buying is worth $4 to you. You’ll get the same writer on some, a different writer on others, and naturally a different artist on all. The backups, or as DC prefer to call them, "co-features," announced as starting in June:

Detective Comics – In addition to a starring role for Batwoman, there’ll be a backup for Renee "The Question" Montoya. Greg Rucka writes both, with Cully Hamner drawing the backup.

Batman: Streets of Gotham – A new series launching at $4 and providing one of the most tempting of all backups. Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen do Bat-Related stuff, while Marc Andreyko and Georges Jeanty bring back Manhunter. This is what I love/hate about these. You have a critically acclaimed series that couldn’t muster enough sales to avoid cancellation, so you bring it back with the writer who made it great as a package deal in a title that’s likely to sell. It’s far from a random pairing, either, as Kate Spencer normally operates in Gotham. I absolutely want to read more Manhunter, and this is the best bet Kate has at a continued shelf presence, but I don’t know that I care about the main feature at all. If it were Gotham City Sirens, also by Dini, starring Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy, I’d be more interested, though Kate arguably fits in better where she is. Incidentally, I love how three of the Bat-Books have a female lead and/or co-star. I guess it’s not an increase with Catwoman’s book and Birds of Prey cancelled, but hey. Here’s hoping they sell better than Batman Confidential, which I could’ve sworn was cancelled. Apparently not just yet.

Interestingly, none of the Superman family of comics get a backup feature. I guess that brand’s not diluted enough to need help, or no one wanted to do an ongoing with one of the lesser known Metropolis heroes. Like, say, Black Lightning, whose Year One miniseries got some good reviews but sold pitifully. BL does pop up in June’s The Brave and the Bold, in a no-brainer team-up with Static.

Booster Gold – The big one for me, the reunion of Blue and Gold, with Jaime Reyes playing the part of Blue. Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund handle the Gold side, while Matthew Sturges and Mike Norton tackle Blue. The backup is solicited as a ten-page story, making this a more tempting package than expected.

Teen Titans – Another backup claiming to be ten pages, and the text makes it sound like that’ll be the normal length. Distressingly, it also claims to have thirty total story pages, which would leave only twenty for the main story, two less than the average DC comic. I guess the ten-pagers will change more than the price, while the eight-pagers will leave the main story unaffected. This is Sean McKeever’s first issue off the main title and on the backup, May’s issue #71 being his last writing the Titans themselves. McKeever focuses on ex-Titan Ravager with Jack Jadson, while Bryan Miller and Joe Bennett take over the teen team. Bennett’s a so-so artist with a prediliction for cheesecake, so he’ll be as inappropriate here as the last few artists. Miller is apparently new to comics, which inspires zero confidence. Could be great, could be terrible, could be mediocre. I’ll leave it to others to find out.

And that’s it. There’s Doom Patrol with its Metal Men backup, but although that was announced first, it’s not due to start till July or so. Considering the creative team, brand strength, and this quote from writer Keith Giffen about the target audience – "Someone who doesn’t require big events and over-the-top angst in their comics. We’re just having some fun here. Strong characters involved in solid adventure stories with lots and lots of snarky dialogue." –  you can expect a cancellation within three years. I’m tempted to buy it so it can break my heart like all the other "fun" comics with "strong characters" and a lack of "big events." I’m masochistic like that.

More Solicitations

Volume two of the JLI trades is due out in July, marking the first time issues of the series beyond #7 have been collected in paperback in several years. The hardcovers are too expensive for me, but this is eight issues, 208 pages, for $18. Same as the HC, but $7 cheaper. For that price, I can see replacing my original issues with their poor quality paper and printing… eventually. The next two volumes, assuming they continue to mirror the hardcovers, will take the series up through issue #30. Ideally, you’d want to go up to #52, since Breakdowns sucked, which figures out to roughly seven volumes. $175 in HC, $126 in TPB. I got most of the series out of quarter boxes, so I’m not eager to rebuy them at $2 a pop, but it’ll be worth it someday.

Bees. Your God.

I love when things jump out and scream "I AM WRONG," like they want you to feel smart by noticing the glaring difference. JLI? 208 pages, $18. Amazons Attack? 160 pages, $20. Both paperback, with AA collecting the universally panned six-issue miniseries.

DC continue their attempt to lure readers into new Vertigo titles with low pricing. First issues are now $1, and first trades are apparently going to average $2 or less per issue. March’s Air Vol. 1 was $10 for five issues totaling 144 pages, and July sees the first Madame Xanadu trade hit at $13 for ten issues, a whopping 240 pages.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold – Not to be confused with Brave and the Bold, this is the tie-in comic for the animated series. One of the things I love about the show, that the comic also boasts, is an endless stable of guest stars. It’s like, who’ll show up next? Could be anyone. June’s issue features Kid Eternity and General Immortus. Eternity is perfect for this series, as his power is literally to call up guest heroes from the past. He needs to be on the show, post-haste.

Reviews

Employee’s Pick

Books of Magic 8

[DC] Books of Magic Vol. 2 #5-8

Writer: John Ney Rieber
Artists: Peter Snejbjerg (issue 5), Peter Gross (issues 6-8)

Things get complicated. Several new characters are introduced in issue five, including a Timothy Hunter from the farflung future time of 2012. It seems this version of Hunter made deals with various demons, exchanging memories of things like summer and kissing his girlfriend for favors. Huh. Where have I heard that before? Since demons are bad and love is good, selling himself piecemeal has the predictable effect of turning Hunter evil. He forgets how to be good or what good even is. This so twists him that he decides it’s a good idea to set-up a school to train young girls to be the perfect Stepford wives, quiet, obedient, and replaceable should any faults appear.

And the perfect wife is always named Molly, after Tim’s first girlfriend, Molly O’Reilly, whom we meet for the first time in the past present. The real Molly isn’t quiet or obedient, and good luck finding another like her. She wears a nigh-permanent smile and comes to be the most important gal in Hunter’s life. The position was previously held by his mother, and because this issue isn’t packed tightly enough already, today happens to be the anniversary of her death six years prior. This sets Tim angsting a bit and his father into a deep depression, as is his habit on this day.

Molly O'Reilly 1

Also, angels. It’s like four stories in one. We’re introduced to the fallen angel Araquel, one of his exes, Khara, and their daughter, Nikki. It’s not clear what they’re about except for Araquel being chained up as punishment for some crime, Khara wanting to prevent the dismal future in which Evil Hunter resides, and all three having supernatural powers and immortality/extreme longevity. Everyone who isn’t chained up pops over to 1994 London and confrontations occur.

good teacher

Then there’s the three-part Sacrifices. There’s a new girl in school, blonde and beautiful, claiming to be from California, and moving into the house next to Tim’s. Molly’s jealous, and with good reason. She’s after Tim, and he’s not complaining. Only this girl, Leah, isn’t from California. She isn’t a girl, either. She’s a succubus, whose master, a man named Martyn, wants to be Tim’s master as well, to nurture his power and benefit from it.

loom

Step one, kill Tim’s father. Or try to. Leah and Martyn pull Tim one way, Molly the other, Tim angsts and snaps and isn’t the easiest person to like, and help arrives from an unlikely corner. That’s a running plot thread, the bit where Tim alternately inspires admiration and ire, usually centering on his relationship with Molly. He’s one of those half-blind sorts who can’t see what a good thing he has unless you spell it out for him. There are times, though, you can tell why Molly doesn’t give up on him, where you think maybe he does deserve someone like her. Only he insists on pushing people away.

New-Type Books

Blue Beetle 36

[DC] Blue Beetle Vol. 7 #36

Writer: Matthew Sturges
Penciler: Carlo Barberi

The final issue. *extreme frown* It’s pretty good. As final issues go, it’s amazing. Conclusive without being overly destructive. The series is definitely over, but a comeback is technically possible. More importantly, there’s nothing here that undermines previous issues. It’s the capper to a very solid series that you can read again and again. Too many series end with a confusedly rushed wrap-up, or have a downward spiral in quality that makes you wonder what went wrong, or the last issue is so downright terrible you regret having read it and balk at picking up the earlier issues again. This is none of those. A simple exercise in housecleaning, putting some toys away, others on shelves so they’re close at hand, and breaking one.

As advertised, a character dies this issue. Sad, but not so tragic as to go against the general upbeat nature of the series. It reminds me of when tragic things would happen in JLI; it never wrecked the book, never cast a pallor over everything so that nothing could be fun anymore. Even in ICBINJL, where the team found Ice’s soul in Hell, which was incredibly sad, it wasn’t like everyone had to "grow up" now, stop joking around and start brooding like Batman. Bad things happen. They don’t have to control your life. You latch onto the good things, to friends and family and witty banter, and you carry on.

And more good things happen, like Blue Beetle making a return of sorts as a backup feature in Booster Gold. I covered this above, but in case you skipped it, Jaime Reyes returns in June, Sturges is still writing, Mike Norton’s on art, they’re down to ten pages an issue, and the whole package costs $4. I stuck with the series till the bittersweet end, and I’d still pay $3 a month to see Sturges write Jaime for twenty-two pages. $4 for ten, though? I dunno. Booster needs to hold my interest, too, for that price, and time travel’s one of my most hated storytelling devices. Couple months yet to decide. I know I can’t save Beetle or Booster if the general public won’t support them, but I’d hate to be part of the problem if a character I love can’t stay in print.

Secret Six 7

[DC] Secret Six Vol. 4 #7
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Nicola Scott

I hope this isn’t the next series on the chopping block. Sales aren’t great. The first issue was reported to sell 31,664 copies, less than half what the first issue of the Deadpool relaunch sold the same month with a $4 cover price. Sales steadily dropped after that, until issue five, which received a small bump from its Faces of Evil cover. Last issue’s Origins & Omens "tie-in," if it behaves anything like other tie-ins that have nothing to do with the crossover they’re supposedly an integral part of, will also get a sales bump. Both bumps will amount to thousands more copies of that particular issue selling, but next to no new readers once the "crossover" ends. Sales numbers according to Comichron by way of Diamond:

#1 – 31,664
#2 – 27,842 (-12.1%)
#3 – 26,048 (-6.45%)
#4 – 24,654 (-5.4%)
#5 – 24,891 (+1%)

At the current rate of decline, issue seven projects to sell approximately 23k copies. That’s an extremely optimistic projection, assuming both that the decline will slow slightly and that it will pick up from issue four’s sales instead of the sales of the subsequent two issues. If the "tie-ins" have a minimal effect on readership, and decline continues at the rate of 5.4%, issue seven will come in around 21k copies. The series is already lucky to make the top hundred on the monthly sales charts. It may come down to how badly DC want to publish it, much as it did with Blue Beetle and Manhunter, fan-favorite series that limped into the mid-to-late thirties before giving up the ghost.

It might benefit from being at DC, where they’re used to lower sales in general. I can’t imagine the recession will help. On the one hand, DC obviously realize that sales are down on everything. On the other hand, the most likely response is to publish fewer and less risky titles, and/or do like Marvel and start gouging readers for every dime you can. Neither option figures to help Secret Six; if it’s selling ten thousand copies in a year, sales will still be down at $4 compared to now at $3, and while there’s certainly a segment loyal enough to keep buying at a higher price (I know I would, though this is about the only comic I could say that about), it would likely accelerate decline. I could be wrong.

Looking at it more optimistically, for DC titles in the January sales charts I see Grant Morrison, Batman, JLA, Geoff Johns, Superman, Final Crisis, Green Lantern, Superman/Batman, Trinity, Teen Titans, Nightwing, and Supergirl in the top fifty. You basically have to be an Event, one of the top franchises, and/or written by one of two popular writers to succeed. Even then, several of those titles don’t crack the top fifty in a month where everything ships on time; January was anomalous. More importantly, one or more of those factors appear to be required to steadily clear 30k sales. The only other DC title to do so in January was Wonder Woman – not exactly C-list. Despite shipping more titles, December added nothing new to the list, unless you want to count Batman and the Outsiders, which is more of an Outsiders book than a Bat-Book. Of course, it might not sell 30k anymore now that it’s branded Outsiders again.

What this means for Secret Six, I’m hoping, is that it’s part of the second tier and not expected to sell as well as anything in the first tier. It’s currently outselling some of the Bat/Super/Titans-related books. It’s hard to find comparable DC titles, though. Most of the books selling worse are newer or cancelled. The best comparison looks to be Green Arrow/Black Canary, which has been directly below Secret Six for the past three months (November 2008-January 2009). If that’s cancelled or overtakes Secret Six, it’ll be a bad sign. The latter is almost certain to happen if Six‘s rate of decline doesn’t slow.

yes

Nothing else stands out. This is one of DC’s worst-selling ongoing titles, not counting Vertigo, Wildstorm, "all-ages" books, and Jonah Hex, which reside on different tiers from the mainstream superheroes. It’s also the best DC title I’m reading, and pound for pound better than anything at Marvel. I hope it continues as long as Simone has stories to tell, and if not, that it goes back to miniseries. We might never see Secret Six #100, but this is really the nineteenth issue for the team, not counting their appearances in Birds of Prey and whatnot. If it goes another nineteen without losing half its sales, it may yet see a #40 on the cover and beyond.

On to the comic itself. It’s almost become predictable that each issue will be stunning, spectacular, seeming to top the last until you remember just how good the last issue was, as were all before it. This issue is objectively superior to #6 by virtue of having six more story pages, but deciding which pages are better is no mean feat. Best to eschew compare and contrast.

This is the big finale, the last chapter of Unhinged, and it doesn’t disappoint. A horde of hired villains, the Birds of Prey, and Junior in a bridge-based showdown with the Six! When this arc is collected, the pure, concentrated awesome in the collated pages will mutate surrounding comics. Some will die, some will emerge stronger than ever, some will give birth to six-fingered babies with a penchant for mayhem.

Something happens this issue that I had hoped never would, and it’s worse than I imagined, yet it’s so beautifully handled that I can’t help counting it as a plus. A great moment in an issue full of them. This series isn’t scheduled to get a backup feature, which is almost a shame since it’s already worth more than $3 a month. I’ll take bargains where I can get them, though, and it’s not like this is a good place for a character who can’t support her own title to set up camp.

Back Issues

None this week.

Trade

None this week. I picked up La Perdida a few weeks ago, but it’s so boring I might never finish it. Which is not to say it’s bad; Jessica Abel writes very convincing characters. The problem, as with Rosa in Life Sucks, is that realistic does not always mean interesting or likeable. If the story manages to engage me, I’ll do a full review later, but right now I have it in the "good, but most people won’t enjoy it" category. Another reviewer might say you should read everything that’s good. I say, read what you like. Try to like good things, but don’t tell yourself you like something because it has technical merit.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to give a quick review of the rest of Starman. You might’ve noticed I stopped covering the trades after Vol. 7. I read the last three, but I couldn’t think of a good way to review them. Wasn’t sure if I should, since it would basically be a rant about how the series lost its way. The general consensus seems to be that Starman was a great series, and I’d wholeheartedly agree about James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman, as well as select Times Past issues. Once Harris left, replaced by Peter Snejbjerg on art, and David Goyer joined as co-writer, it tanked. From far above average to below it. I strongly suspect Harris was the key, though my dislike of Goyer and Geoff Johns’ JSA makes me think Goyer is a negative influence. The art’s a simpler issue. Harris left, it stopped being good. Whatever caused the writing to go south, Harris’ uncredited contributions, Goyer whispering "time travel" in Robinson’s ear until he relented, or Robinson himself running out of gas, south it went. Characters became less engaging, Opal City didn’t seem as surreally beautiful anymore (and I don’t mean visually), and there were some seriously hackneyed developments. At least three instances where a character died, then "psyche! he’s OK now." All those promising, slowburn plotlines like Jack’s girl Sadie, The Mist II and her reverse-rape baby, The Black Pirate, Scalphunter reincarnated, Talking with David… they all petered out. There were resolutions, technically, but unsatisfying tie-ups, like Robinson was rushed or never planned it through to start with. So disappointing.

It’s still a great series, or half of one, but I don’t think the post-Harris stuff holds a candle to those first forty-six issues. They’re like the second trade, Night and Day.

Truncation

Books of Magic – Making deals with demons has adverse consequences. Who knew?
Blue Beetle – Good ending to a great series. It will be missed.
Secret Six – Quality is as high and consistent as sales aren’t.
Miscellaneous Trades – Mumble grumble rassum frassum Goyer.

 


Additional Links

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *