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The Non-Marvel Action Hour 4/8/9

More co-back-feature-ups, Blackest Night news, sales numbers from
February, and a Fables update. Reviews of new Wonder Woman and Ex
Machina, old Books of Magic, and Batman Adventures.

News

New Backups

Action ComicsCaptain Atom by James Robinson and Greg Rucka. No artist named.

Green Arrow/Black Canary – Becomes Green Arrow with a Black Canary backup. Ouch. Supposedly, this is the one title where “co-feature” is more than a PC term for “backup,” with Dinah and Ollie taking turns as the main feature, but the name change sends a clear message. Would that we could go back to the BoP days, where Dinah was a strong character with a major role. Didn’t get her name on the cover, but she didn’t need to. In theory, this could be that, depending on the creative team and how long a leash editorial allow them.

Neither of these sound promising. Atom’s never interested me (YMMV), and I’d rather read a Black Canary solo series where Ollie’s nowhere to be seen than whatever Green Arrow will be. However, I suspect I’m in the minority there. Sales are poor, and it’s safe to say the GA name has more brand strength than BC’s. This seems the most likely of the $4 series to fail. You’re basically getting the same thing, only more of it. New readers will have to be attracted by the name, in which case they mustn’t like Dinah much, or the new creative team, if there is one. Sales aren’t that poor, though; the price increase could be enough to keep it afloat if readers don’t leave in droves. It’s last among titles gaining backups, though, not counting new series, and appears to offer the least change. If anything fails, this should be first.

Blackest Night Miniseries

Because it has to be an Event. Innocuous though it appeared, Origins & Omens was somehow a teaser for the Crisis-like deluge of upcoming tie-ins. August sees three-issue series Blackest Night: Superman, Blackest Night: Batman, and Blackest Night: Titans, followed by similarly titled minis in November for JSA, Flash, and Wonder Woman. The last is the only one that concerns me. Unlike Trinity and Final Crisis, Blackest Night figures to take place in continuity and, y’know, matter to the rest of the universe, so Wondy’s role in it might be something I want to see. If Simone’s writing it, I’m on board. Otherwise, tough call.

Sales Watch – A brief look at the February 2009 sales of select comics.

Secret Six #6 sold 24,753 copies, down 138 from #5 and up 99 from #4. Apparently, Origins & Omens had the same steadying effect as Faces of Evil. #7 was a regular issue, free of gimmicks, so if sales stay up it’s a great sign. I expect they won’t.

Wonder Woman #29 also saw a slight bump thanks to Origins & Omens, which I recently learned is available free from DC online. Fantastic. I can’t be the only one who’d have liked that non-crossover better as an online-only bit of hype. Recent Wonder Woman sales:

#24 – 34,573
#25 – 33,579
#26 – 33,271 (First Rise of the Olympian)
#27 – 32,317
#28 – 32,612 (Faces of Evil)
#29 – 33,231 (Origins & Omens)

There’s been a slow, steady decline for a while. It looks like only faux crossovers can affect sales, and not by much. Anniversary issue? Pfft. New storyline? Whatever. At this rate, #30 figures to drop below #27’s sales by upwards of a thousand.

Green Arrow/Black Canary – I like to think it’s a good sign for Secret Six that it’s pulling away from this title. #16 was a Faces of Evil issue, #17 Origins & Omens, yet #16 was down 111 from #15 and #17 dropped an additional 1,024 sales, falling to 23,388.

Booster Gold – Speculators are apparently immune to this title. It hit seventeen issues in February, just like GA/BC, and had the same regular issue/FoE/O&O pattern with #15-17, yet sales went from 26,831 to 25,465 to 24,727. Scary. Sales have dropped about a thousand a month throughout Dan Jurgens’ run, and they weren’t exactly steady in the interim between Geoff Johns’ run and his. Wonder if the same thing will happen once Johns leaves Justice Society of America, one of DC’s best-selling titles. It’s already in decline, so it might be hard to tell how much of it is the shift in creative team. It should stay healthy for a few years yet, even if Johns was the main attraction.

Batman and the Outsiders – I mentioned this before as one of DC’s 30k+ titles, so I thought I’d take another look at it. Peter J. Tomasi took over writing with the Batman and the Outsiders Special, which sold 35,271 at $4 a copy, up from the last pre-Tomasi issue, #14 of the regular series, which sold 32,158. Very nice. However, Outsiders #15, the first issue without “Batman” in the title, sold 30,019. Too much Outsiders at once? Readers got January off as the special shipped late. Could be they weren’t eager to buy two issues in one month, and chose to save money by buying the more expensive one. Yeah… not likely. Outsiders on its own is a weak brand, and sales figure to reflect that. Maybe it’ll get a backup later. Outsiders and The Batman?

R.E.B.E.L.S. #1 came in at 75th with 23,734 copies ordered. Woof. Hardly surprising, but considering how much better #1s typically sell than every issue after, I’d say it’s doomed.

G.I. Joe – IDW recently relaunched the brand with three new titles. The main title, G.I. Joe, sold 32,830 copies at $4 each in its January debut. #2 sold 23,636 at the same price. G.I. Joe: Origins started in February, also at $4, the first issue selling 21,971 copies.

Bat-Books – Final issues of Nightwing, Robin, and Birds of Prey sold 37,644, 31,677, and 21,420, respectively, all up from the previous month. Batman Confidential, which I am assured is not cancelled (yet), sold worse than all three in both months, and threatens to drop below 20k soon.

The final issue of Blue Beetle sold thirty more copies than the penultimate issue, a whopping 10,620. Someday, people will care. Those people will buy the trade.

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5 was the third best-selling trade in February, behind Watchmen and some Batman R.I.P. Super Mega Deluxe Absolute Omnibus of Bat-Death. It sold 6,126 copies at $12 a pop, which would rank it 214th among single issues without adjusting for price. Treating it like four issues of a $3 comic – and at 184 pages, albeit black & white pages, you’re getting way more than you would from any four comics – it would rank 75th, ahead of R.E.B.E.L.S., with 24,504 sales. The top seven trades were all non-Marvel, with four from DC and one each from Oni, Image, and Viz.

Wonder Woman: Who is Wonder Woman? debuted in paperback form in February, selling 1,999 copies. This trade collects the critically-panned, fan-hated Allan Heinberg run, on which I cannot directly comment as I’ve made a point of avoiding it and everything else between Rucka and Simone. The first hardcover volume of Simone’s wonderful run, The Circle, sold 1,864 copies. Yes, one’s a HC and one’s a SC. Yes, the Heinberg trade costs $10 less. And I’m the last person who’ll recommend paying more to get basically the same product in a different package sooner, even in a case like this, where no trades are coming until after June. If you want to read Simone’s Wonder Woman in trade, you need the patience of an ancient kung fu master. So, trade-waiters being an unknown factor, I can only look at the raw numbers and despair.

Great Fables Crossover

I’ve decided I’ll be skipping it for now. There’s no way I was going to buy three issues of Jack of Fables, which I don’t read and have never wanted to read despite liking its writers, nor the three-issue The Literals miniseries, both of which are part of a plot that I’d have zero confidence in if I hadn’t thoroughly enjoyed Fables up to this point. Somehow, I had convinced myself it was worth continuing to buy Fables only when I’d have to stop reading after the first part of the nine-part crossover, and would be ill-advised to continue reading after the crossover ended. The whole point of buying comics when they’re new is to read them months in advance of the trade. That and the hope that your money will help ensure the title’s continued publication. While Fables is a modest seller, it’s #1 among Vertigo comics; Jack of Fables barely sells half as much, yet it doesn’t seem poised for cancellation anytime soon.

Reviews

Employee’s Pick

Books of Magic 9

[DC] Books of Magic Vol. 2 #9-11

Writer: John Ney Rieber
Penciler: Gary Amaro
Inker: Peter Gross

Have I mentioned this series can get confusing? It would probably help if I’d read the Neil Gaiman miniseries that set it up. Also the Arcana: The Books of Magic Annual, by Rieber, which introduces people and places that figure in our first story, the three part Artificial Heart. It’s clear enough once you’ve read it all, but lacking context hurts it some. Tim recognizes characters I’ve never met, and that’s on me.

money fairy

We start in Free Country, some fantastic world full of children, I gather. Seems rather like Neverland, what with the mischievous scamps and lack of aging. That and the residents are refugees from Earth. Maybe other places, too. At any rate, Tim’s been there, and he met a girl named Marya, who followed him to Earth and took up ballet dancing. Molly goes to the same dance school, yadda yadda yadda, everyone knows everyone now. This story marks two key Tim/Molly events. Molly learns that Tim is a magician (and takes it exceedingly well), and they officially become a couple. Halcyon days. Couldn’t have a story without conflict, though, so along comes Daniel, who’s late of Free Country somewhat less than voluntarily, fancies Marya, and suspects Tim of making moves on her.

optimists

There’s some imaginative business with a Reverend Slaggingham and his happiness-extracting machine, Awn the Blink, Auberon popping over to get his soul stolen, and pseudoviolent confrontations. The unicorn returns, as do Khara and Nikki. Ever busy, these books. Amidst all this, Rieber finds a clever way to reveal something about Molly without saying it outright. Barely hints at it, but it’s clear enough with context.

I should cover more issues, but I’ve delayed the column too long already, and it wouldn’t do to rush through. Next time, #12-14 and probably more.

New-Type Books

Wonder Woman 29

[DC] Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #29

Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Aaron Lopresti

This is good. Chock full of plotty goodness. Wondy and friends try to recover from the beatdown Genocide just handed them, Cheetah makes her move, the Manazons wreck some ship, and Zeus confronts Diana’s new patron god, Kane Milohai. Only eighteen pages this issue, three of them taken up by full-page spreads, yet more ground is covered than in most full-length comics.

But it’s not full-length, because we have to put up with this Origins & Omens nonsense again. This is the second time for me, and I’m way past sick of it. Also the last time, thankfully. This one’s worse than the Secret Six one. I remain unconvinced that this has anything to do with Blackest Night, despite the narration from rogue Guardian Scar with her eyes that bleed ink or whateverthecrap. Regardless, the point of the vignette seems to be that Diana is spoiled, not in a bratty way, but in a way that leaves her unprepared for the real world. I guess that’s part of the whole quasi-reboot from Infinite Crisis where she’s supposed to be newly arrived in man’s world except not really ’cause she still has her history and… Ugh, I don’t care. Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman, and I don’t buy that she’s headed for a wreck any more than I bought the Black Horizon corrupting her. We’ll see.

god snit

We’re only halfway through this eight-part story, and for all its good points, I’m eager to reach the end for one reason: mind control. Genocide has some vague hate aura that makes people all growly, and it’s annoying. I want to see the characters as they are, not as they are under the influence of bad vibes. This is twice now Simone’s had some external force making people act out of character, and we haven’t gotten to Dr. Psycho yet. Probably my least favorite thing about the series. Reminds me of the worst part of her Birds of Prey run, where Brainiac was influencing Oracle, making her all growly and snappish and half-crazed. I expect it’ll be a recurring theme, though perhaps less annoying next time. I don’t mind when it’s overt and clearly explained, like in Secret Six with Psycho and Mad Hatter. Subtle, inconsistent mind control that makes you wonder when people are themselves, though? Not my cup of tea. Not that it’s all that mysterious. It’s like they’re drunk and you’re waiting for them to sober up… until the next time they tie one on.

But this is good, overall. Flipping through it for a second, third, fourth time, I find more that I’d overlooked. This is what I want from a $3+ comic, a story where so much is going on you can forget half of it without wanting to.

Ex Machina Special 4

[DC] Ex Machina Special #4
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: John Paul Leon

Ah, there’s the plot. Eddy Romans is slinging mud at Mayor Hundred’s policies, and some nutjob is claiming he can talk to plants. Naturally, the plants tell him to kill.

There are thirty-two pages of story here, thus the $4 pricetag, yet it reads much lighter than Wonder Woman with its eighteen. There are maybe three or four things going on, and they’re addressed in a more leisurely manner. One of those is the suggestion that comic books should be printed on recycled paper. Intriguing idea, but aside from the metatextual message, a bit random.

I keep asking myself why I continue to read this, and I can’t settle on a definite answer. Because it’s a multi-layered, technically superb use of the medium? The art’s great, especially Tony Harris on the regular issues. Leon’s turn here has that sort of offputting “that’s not how they normally look” feel to it, but aside from not being Harris, he’s fine. I’d love to see him drawing a Static ongoing again, maybe with Dwayne McDuffie writing? Anyways, it’s not that. I’m all for supporting quality works of art and literature, but I don’t necessarily want to support them directly. With money. I want to be entertained, and it’s been a long time since I could say I look forward to an issue of Ex Machina.

I’m reading this for the characters. Or I was. Kremlin’s lurking in the background, Bradbury’s miserable, and I’m not half as upset with them as with Mitchell. There are ten issues left, barring any more specials. However it ends, I doubt I’ll be happy. I’m not sure I’ll care. It seems like the point of the series is that superheroes are flashy and exciting and fun, but ultimately destructive. They break laws, screw stuff up, and accomplish very little to offset that. Maybe a Superman does more good than harm, but not if he’s inspiring normal people to pursue power fantasies. Hundred eschews excitement – and we’re constantly reminded by the flashback sequences of how much more fun this comic could be – to bring about real change through boring political means. That’s a good story, an admirable turn, and I feel like a dolt for wanting to read about messy, inconsequential heroics instead. But I do. I so do. I’m not confident in criticising Vaughan’s approach, aside from certain aspects, but quality isn’t enough. If you take the fantasy elements out and make Hundred a regular human mayor with a past that a real person could have, I stop caring. It might be as good or better, but I’d rather read something with a bit of wackiness. Telling traffic lights to turn green and cellphones to shut up is more fun than discussing how and why the POTUS should be made welcome in your city.

The thing is, I enjoyed this issue. The last line was dumb, and I’d have rather gotten ten fewer pages and saved a buck, but this was basically what I wanted to see more of. There’s plot, there’s action. It’s a good issue. But I feel like I’m reading out of loyalty, buying the so-so issues because there are good issues in the same series. The fact that it’s ending soon makes riding it out more tempting, but I learned from Y: The Last Man that completism doesn’t solve all your problems.

Back Issues

None this week.

Trade

[DC] The Batman Adventures: Dangerous Dames & Demons
Writer: Paul Dini
Pencilers: Bruce Timm, Mike Parobeck (Annual #1), Dan DeCarlo (Annual #1), Klaus Janson (Annual #1), John Byrne (Annual #1), Glen Murakami (Annual #2)

The back cover claims this is a collection of “all of the best of Dini and Timm’s collaborations in the world of the Dark Knight,” but really it’s four issues with parts taken out in a token effort to focus on Timm without limiting themselves to only his art. It’s good stuff, and Timm pencils, inks, and/or colors nearly everything here, but it’s not like they went searching far and wide for buried treasure to put under a single heading. This trade’s stuck between a conventional collection and a true creator-focused showcase (e.g. Across the Universe: The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore), unwilling to commit either way. You get the entirety of The Batman Adventures Annual #1 and 2, Mad Love, a short from Adventures in the DC Universe #3, and a Christmas story from (shocker) the Holiday Special. So, three whole comics, and a small part of two others. It’s worth tracking down the Holiday Special for the non-Timm stories. You also get a bit of art that was cut for being too risque, and brief thoughts on each story from Timm.

It’s a nice collection. Ideally, DC will collect all the Batman Adventures stuff in trades, including the Holiday Special, skipping over what’s already collected in full here. That way you don’t have to rebuy much. Unless, you know, your patience is less than infinite, and you’ve already started buying back issues, in which case any arrangement will be less than ideal. This collection was disappointing for me since a big chunk of it is taken up by Mad Love, which I own and recently reviewed. If you don’t have that yet, it’s a great reason to pick this up.

The first story’s a throwaway six-pager with Batman vs. Poison Ivy. The lone dud in an otherwise consistently clever collection. It’s followed by the first annual, which explores one of my favorite themes, criminal reform. Can supervillains become superheroes? or live a normal life, free of crime and insanity? Some can, some can’t, and often the latter are unable to escape their lot due to editorial constraints. Can’t have Batman’s rogues going straight. Who would he punch? They’d have to come up with new baddies, like the one featured in the annual’s framing sequence, Roxy Rocket. Like the Grey Ghost, Roxy’s a throwback to a bygone era, dressed like an old school pilot (WWII?) with a huge rocket between her legs. She’s fun, but it’s easy to see why she didn’t achieve massive popularity.

After Bats cleans Roxy’s clock, Alfred says what everyone’s thinking, that none of the Bat-Rogues have managed to reform, however much some have tried. This sends Bats into flashback mode as he recounts notable failures. The first is the saddest, the story of Arnold Wesker, better known as The Ventriloquist, who manages to divert his utter failure to interact with human beings in a nonthreatening way as a puppet operator on a kids’ show. Can you imagine Arnold on Sesame Street? I’d pay to see that. Dini makes a good case for Wesker’s failure here. Arguably, the real reason he can’t reenter society for good is that DC don’t want him to, that even as minor a dastardly duo as The Ventriloquist and Scarface are too valuable to lose, but the fact that “mentally healthy” Wesker replaces imaginary overlord Scarface with imaginary friend Croaky the Frog suggests that his problems run too deep.

24 Hours, starring Harley Quinn, writes itself. If you’ve read or watched anything with Quinn before, like, say, Mad Love, you know the story already. The third failure is the darkest and most thought-provoking. Jonathan Crane breaks out of Arkham, creates a false identity, and proceeds to… teach English. Like Wesker, he hasn’t completely reformed, as evidenced by his admitted contempt for the bulk of his students, but he’s happy to go on teaching until he learns of an attack on the one student he likes. Though it’s only explicitly stated that a male student, referred to as Mister Bromley, made advances on a female student, one Molly Randall, and that he hit her when she resisted, it’s strongly implied that Bromley’s crimes were not limited to assault. If he did rape Molly, as everyone’s actions and reactions suggest, I’m afraid I have to side against Batman here.

BAH!

Crane’s reaction is to bust out his fear chemicals and don his Scarecrow gear for one express purpose: vigilante justice. He tortures and prepares to kill Bromley (presumably; he might have intended castration) when Batman arrives to stop him. If anyone’s exacting vigilante justice around here, it’s going to be him. Scarecrow’s methods are a bit beyond the pale. Tempting as it is to twist Batman’s line about “fear, intimidation, and force” being the only ways people like Crane and Bromley know how to deal with the world to apply to him, as it does, there is a clear difference between what he does and what Scarecrow would do if he fought crime. Still, it seems odd to lock him up for this when so many vigilantes are as extreme or worse. This is the DCAU, though, so we don’t have Green Lanterns lopping arms off and Bloodblow Deathfist owning the night. I’d like to see how this story would play out in the regular DCU, and with Batman temporarily AWOL, now would be a good time.

Laughter After Midnight wraps up the first annual, as Byrne shows off his range in a story about the Joker getting away. Interestingly, the back cover refers to this as “their story,” as in Dini and Timm’s, though Timm only provided colors. I’m sure Byrne loved that. Then it’s back to Timm for Bullock, Montoya, and most of all Batgirl investigating a string of thefts. Harvey Bullock in a Santa suit. ‘Nuff said. The second annual is one long story, Batman and the Demon teaming up to fight Ra’s Al Ghul. It is made of crack and win, with magical spells like “Luap Deirub I” and Pirate Jason Blood vs. Ra’s in a three-cornered hat. Also, lots of death and a seven page dream sequence that was literally thrown in to take up space. Not the trade’s high point, but pretty good all in all. Mad Love closes out the collection, as creepy and funny as ever.

Truncation

Books of Magic – Fun, complicated, and sometimes scary. Rewards longtime readers without being inaccessible to new.
Wonder Woman – Another good issue, held back by a stupid sales stunt. Also, I could do without the mind control.
Ex Machina – A good issue that finally convinces me to stop reading.
The Batman Adventures: Dangerous Dames & Demons – A great DCAU collection, simultaneously more and less focused than advertised.

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