Jan 23, 2018

Renew Your Vows: A Sales Analysis

With the recent announcement that Dan Slott is ending his lengthy run as the writer on Amazing Spider-Man, a vocal contingent of fans has once again returned to the comment sections.  For many years, a subset of Spider-Man fans have continuously and passionately denounced Marvel’s decision to erase the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.  They’ve sworn for years now that Spider-Man is an objectively better character, and comic, when he was married.  Marvel finally gave them what they wanted in November of 2016, when they launched Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, featuring a married Peter and Mary Jane, and their super-powered daughter.  Prompted by the resurfacing of what is now a decade long debate, I decided to look up the sales on Renew Your Vows to see how it’s doing, and how it compares to the other comics in the Spider-Man franchise.  Here’s what I found.

Renew Your Vows: A Sales Analysis of Married and Single Spider-Man
Ben Smith


First, some caveats.  I did not include any of the limited series or Spider-event titles.  No Spider-Men II, Edge of Venomverse, Generations, or Clone Conspiracy.  I am not including Spider-Man/Deadpool, because it would be impossible to determine how much Deadpool’s popularity helps sales on that comic.  Silk and Spider-Man 2099 were so far down on the sales charts that I didn’t even notice them until around the 5th month, so I’ll be ignoring them altogether.  Furthermore, most industry professionals are adamant that the Diamond sales charts are completely inaccurate, but seeing as how they’re the only tool the public is given, I can only go by what I have available. (Duy here. Diamond numbers indicate preorders only and not actual sell-through.) 

Additionally, comic sales are down across the board, so total unit sales is not a good measurement to go by when comparing current comics to comics from yesteryear.  The best indication of where a book stands in its time period among it's peers, is its rank on the overall sales chart.  That will be my primary focus.  Also, I’m going to avoid assigning asterisks to sales bumps on any of the titles, because any discussion about sales should not discredit the means by which a publisher achieves those sales, whether it be renumbering, incentive variants, new creative teams, or event tie-ins.  It would be impossible to measure the impact of each different sales tool without doing a lot more research, and I've already done far more than I ever do. (Someone help me put the last five years of sales in an Excel file and attribute the appropriate variables, then someone get me the latest version of Stata, and I'll do the regression. No kidding. Matt and I have done it before. -Duy)

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, my personal bias.  First and foremost, I am a Spider-Man fan.  I honestly do not care if he is married or not.  I happen to agree with the reasoning Marvel had for making him single again, but ultimately, his marital status does not affect if I can enjoy a quality Spider-Man comic or not.

One last thing, I am way behind on my Spider-Man reading.  I read a few issues of Amazing after Immonen took over as the artist, and I read the first issue of Renew Your Vows.  (Both titles lost me at around the same time, but to be fair, so did most modern comics in my switch to trades. -Duy) Quality will not, and cannot, be something I can discuss with any first-hand knowledge.  This will strictly be sales, which is the only real way to objectively measure how well a book is received by fans anyway. 

MARRIED VS SINGLE

Renew Your Vows finished in the following spots on the Diamond sales chart from Nov ’16 to Dec ’17: #6, #50, #55, #71, #56, #75, #102, #78, #90, #94, #62, #111, #16, #102.  After a strong debut, the book had a fairly precipitous decline in overall sales and it’s ranking on the sales chart.  Except for a few instances where it jumped up the list, it’s been a pretty steady decline.


Amazing Spider-Man during that same time period finished at: #23, #22, #9, #13, #1, #15, #27, #15, #14, #18, #17, #3, #31, #10.  Renew Your Vows outsold Amazing in only two or the fourteen months of its existence.  (Admittedly, not a large sample size.)  When it launched in Nov ’16 (because first issues sell more traditionally) and in Nov ’17 when it debuted a new creative team, an 8-year time jump forward in the story, and a ton of incentive variant covers.  Those aren’t asterisks, merely explanations for the larger sales, which stand out as anomalies compared to the other 12 months.

Possible ASM sales boosters: Alex Ross covers. -Duy

Amazing Spider-Man sold 934,000 comics in that 14 month span.  (That’s not including the second issue anytime Amazing released two issues in a month, because that’s not a fair comparison.  Including those double-shipping months, the overall number rises to 1,089,000).  Renew Your Vows sold 515,000 copies over the same time period.  That’s a pretty resounding sales difference between single and married Spider-Man.

Maybe Renew Your Vows isn’t delivering an appealing creative team?  Considering Slott is uniformly reviled (if you believe the internet) than any other writer option should be a net positive.  If marital status is truly all those fans care about, then quality or execution should not be a factor at all. 

But, you may be saying to me, it’s not fair to compare a brand-new title to a comic that has been published continuously for over 50 years.  Okay, then…

RENEW YOUR VOWS VS SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN AND VENOM

Venom launched the same exact month as Renew Your Vows, and finished at the following spots on the overall sales charts every month since: #8, #67, #24, #47, #71, #14, #2, #32, #55, #71, #98, #12, #85, #40.  Venom outsold Renew Your Vows in 9 of the 14 months since they both debuted.  Venom sold 731,000 total comics.   (Ugh. -Duy) Admittedly, Venom was helped by a legacy re-numbering, and being the focal point of a few minor events, but again, Marvel obviously felt it was doing well enough to earn that increased focus.


Spectacular Spider-Man launched in June ’17 and sold the most copies of any Spider-Man family comic for this entire time period I’m discussing, at 224,000 issues.  It’s rank on the sales charts: #1, #17, #35, #44, #69, #41, #54.  Much less of a drop-off than either Renew Your Vows or Venom (and for clarification, features an even more “classic” depiction of a single Spider-Man).  It sold 462,000 comics over 7 months, nearly matching Renew Your Vows in half the time.


So, now you might be saying to me, but those books are in-continuity, and continuity is what matters…

ALTERNATE UNIVERSE VS ALTERNATE UNIVERSE

First of all, the pro-marriage crowd has been saying for a decade that if Marvel made a married Spider-Man title, the legions of fans upset with the erasure of the marriage would come out in legion and it would easily surpass the sales of any single Spider-Man.  But, for the sake of argument, I know that comics that take place in an alternate universe from the “main” Marvel continuity, are not as valued or seen as “important” as comics that do by a lot of fans.  Let’s see how Spider-Gwen fares.



Spider-Gwen finished at the following spots on the sales chart since Nov’16: #101, #100, #74, #81, #65, #86, #105, #82, #104, #113, #54, #13, #101, #83.  Gwen only outsold Renew Your Vows in 4 of the 14 months, but they were relatively near each other in most months.  Gwen sold 427,000 copies, which is pretty good for a book that doesn’t feature a Peter Parker at all.  But yes, Renew Your Vows is the top alternate universe Spider-Man book.

TANGENTS

I don’t really know how Miles Morales’ Spider-Man comic fits in this discussion, but since I have the numbers, his book finished at the following spots on the sales chart: #68, #58, #33, #61, #67, #62, #77, #81, #60, #72, #66, #93, #23, #69.  Overall it sold 491,000 comics.  It pretty consistently sells 30-33,000 comics.  If Renew Your Vows continues to sell in the 20-23,000 range, Miles will surpass it before long. (Hey, someone should do Miles' relative chart placement before he was in the main Marvel Universe and afterwards. I'm legitimately curious if being brought into continuity had an effect. Someone who isn't me. -Duy)




Extreme tangent, since Ben Reilly is another darling of the internet message boards.  Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider finished at the following spots on the sales chart since its launch in Apr ’17: #27, #83, #89, #102, #112, #107, #125, #57, #119.  It sold 260,000 copies in 9 months.  A tangent within this tangent, I was surprised to see that Clone Conspiracy, a hyped event mini-series, sold less than its equivalent Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins.  It sold 257,000 copies from Nov ’16 to Mar ’17, while Amazing sold 373,000.  That blows my mind.  I don’t think that has ever happened before. (I'm willing to bet this is the "Slott has to leave the book" data point, if Marvel is run just like any other business and they use data to decide who has which job. Eh, but who knows how comic companies are run. -Duy)


C'mon, who doesn't want to see the return of the Hornet? -Duy


I know this wasn’t exactly the ideal version of Ben Reilly that fans have been asking for, but that’s still a really poor performance, especially since Peter David is a writer that fans are constantly suggesting as a better option than Slott on Amazing.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, starring a single Peter Parker, are definitively higher sellers than the married Renew Your Vows book.  Venom, a Spider-Man villain/anti-hero, sold 30 percent more comics during the exact same time period as a comic that features Peter Parker, regardless of his relationship status.  Renew Your Vows sold the most comics as an alternate universe Spider-Man book, but if the steady decline it’s been showing continues, Spider-Gwen will retake that title before long.  It does however outsell Miles, Silk, Ben Reilly, and Spider-Man 2099.  Again, I think Miles will surpass it before long since it maintains a much more steady sales history.

(If you go by average sales, which has its own caveats in and of itself, Amazing averages 66,714 books; Spec is close behind at 66,000. It's then followed by Venom, because there is no justice in the world, at 52,000. Renew is fourth at 37,000, with Miles' book close behind at 35,000. Gwen is at 30,500, and Scarlet is at 29,000. The real takeaway is that sales suck. I'm willing to bet that Venom is high in the direct market because most of the fans who made Venom popular still get their books from the direct market, that 90s collectible crowd. Similarly, I would make the assumption that Gwen and Miles perform more highly on digital and in trades than the direct sales would indicate., as Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel does. While I'm at it, here's an illuminating TED talk by G. Willow Wilson. None of anything I just said relates to Peter Parker, but I'm fairly certain Ben Reilly sells low because he's Ben Reilly, and no matter how many of us say they'd support a Ben Reilly book, only a handful of us actually mean it. And for the record, I am not one of them. -Duy)

Numbers are facts. Indisputable.  It’s time the pro-marriage fans put their money where their mouths are, if they want to keep talking big about which Spider-Man is objectively the best.

In the meantime, here's an Amazon link to Renew Your Vows if you want to support it or give it a try:

Jan 22, 2018

Mystik U: Rose by Any Other Name

I had been looking forward to Mystik U for a couple years, since I’d first noticed writer and creator, Alisa Kwitney, talking about it, so I was primed for the first issue. A comic featuring Zatanna, who I generally love, written by a woman, an intelligent and sensible writer, which meant many of the things that sometimes happen with Zatanna stories which make me cringe were unlikely to happen. This was going to be good. But, I had no preparation for Doctor Rose Psychic.

Rose By Any Other Name
Travis Hedge Coke

I know Rose Psychic. Rose, is the consistently more interesting half of a couple-sharing-an-existence, typically seen as the male, Dr Occult. Only one can be physically present at a time, though both still communicate psychically, betwixt themselves. Panel for panel, Rose probably only shows up in physical reality once for ever hundred panels Occult is in. And, while he’s always known by his surname, and almost always with that title in place, even though there’s no evidence he ever earned any kind of doctorate, Rose is Rose. Rose is a female archetype, or more honestly, a sketch of femininity.

The first issue of Mystik U has Rose Psychic right there, the main presence, with Occult unseen and unheard except by her, and she’s insisting men call her Dr Psychic.



Somewhere inside me, eleven-or-twelve-year-old just-discovering-Vertigo-as-it-launches me is hyperventilating. I am still not over it. I am self-conscious about how excited it makes me. Every asshole who dismissed my mom, a fieldworker when I was born, and currently Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside, every dumbass who talked to my grandmother like she was uneducated, the dudes who called my grandfather, “boy,” when he was in his eighties, “Dr Rose Psychic” feels like a raspberry in the face of all of them. A simple, natural, sensible thing that should have always been and of course, unfortunately of course, nobody bothered, nobody even considered it.

It is easy to underestimate these things. It’s easy to disregard them. It’s not a new character. It is not a radical reinvention. The comics news sites that went gaga because Superman had a slight change in his belt design, or because DC paid money to an artist to draw Watchmen characters again, they are not going to even make mention of Dr Rose Psychic’s demanding a title and that the title be used.

I can’t get over it. I don’t want Dr Psychic to go back. The last time I noted Rose in any comic, she was dead and being left in Hell in a comic partly drawn by a convicted pedophile. The most by-the-numbers and unsurprising comic I have ever read by someone I think otherwise has a genius body of work. Rose had nowhere to go but up, but it’s comics, it’s mainstream superhero comics. She could absolutely go down further. Comics can always further degrade a female character. It can get worse.

And, it might still get worse. Mystik U will not have new issues forever. I hope it runs a few years. I want to know where it goes, to enjoy it month by month for awhile. And, this take on Rose Psychic - the Dr Psychic Years, as I will think of them - will remain forever as a potential, as a window if not a place beyond the window. But, the next writer, the next comic can degrade her from here, from this beautiful and flowering starting place. We need to guard against that. I have full faith Kwitney and her colleagues on the comic are fighting against it.

Dr Psychic is not a promotion for Rose. It is where she should have been. It’s where male-her, her male alternate, male double, has always been, with the same qualifications, under the same criteria, without once being questioned or compared. Dr Occult is Doctor Occult, because he is. Rose Psychic is Rose, because we’re sexist. Rose Psychic is Dr Psychic, because she is. Even, if the next writer does not call her that, even if no character ever refers to it again, it cannot be taken away. An education we cannot be divested of. Her right to it cannot be argued. Bullied into silence, maybe, but we’ll all know. We do know.

Jan 19, 2018

Typhoid Mary Doesn’t Exist

Mary Walker and Typhoid were created by Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr during their run on Daredevil (issue 254). They share a body, and are manifested identities of a woman suffering from dissociative identity disorder. Later, Nocenti will add Bloody Mary, as a third, and Dan Slott - in an atrocious case of missing the point - Mutant Zero. But, there is no Typhoid Mary. No character by that name exists. That name is a label to put on a cover, a title. Even her gorgeous miniseries by Nocenti and John Van Fleet was called Typhoid, because it’s about, well, the character named, Typhoid.

Typhoid Mary Doesn’t Exist
How Ann Nocenti Turned a Pile of Contradictory Misogyny
into the Gut Release We All Needed
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

And, to me, here is the heart of the character who is Typhoid and Mary (et al). Neither Typhoid nor Mary are a person, are permitted personhood. Typhoid is callous, sexual, violent, strong but yielding temporarily to men with power or money. Mary is weepy, clingy, naive. These aren’t women; they are misogynistic anxieties. And, what’s awesome about them both, is that they fuck over exactly the sort of guys who pretty much earned it. Typhoid stories are morality plays. They’re lesson stories. If Typhoid or Mary are what you believe women “truly are,” you are in trouble.



Both Mary and Typhoid are introduced as assassins, set on not just killing, but destroying someone. Typhoid goes out and gets in stabby fights. Mary has meet cutes and hugs and blushes. Depending on where the audience’s gauge falls between Madonna and Whore, one or the other may seem healthier or cooler, but they’re messed up. They’re both messed up. Mary and Typhoid, in this sense, do not exist. Again, they lack personhood, but not in the sense of fridging. Neither is sacrificed for the growth of male characters, but instead, they are a metaphoric agency, a complex of bruised ideas lashing back outward.

Because, largely, comics won’t let Mary or Typhoid, or even “Typhoid Mary” be their own person. And, to be a person is to be “their own person.” Otherwise, it is not personhood.

Think I am overreaching? The collection of Nocenti’s Typhoid stories, the comics where she is the lead or co-lead, is titled Daredevil: Typhoid’s Kiss. Note, Daredevil, the character, is not mentioned until we are 136 story pages into the collection. He does not physically appear for 167 pages. He’s barely in any of the stories after that. But, the title of the collection is him, and she is not even the subtitle, the subtitle is only her hypothetical, metaphorical action. Something received by someone else.

“I love to test men,” says Typhoid, in the graphic novella, Bloody Mary.



Heroes, villains, “just guys,” that are in danger from Typhoid/Mary/Bloody Mary are not all uniformly horrible, and the ones who are not thoroughly rotten with misogynistic, sexist muck generally survive intact, if cut up a bit. But, they are all sexist. That, I think, is what Typhoid is for, and what makes her and her stories so excellent. Daredevil is sexist. This has been an established trait, complained about by other characters, weathered by women in his stories, since quite early in his existence as a character. Black Widow ditched him, when they were partnered up in San Francisco, because he was annoyingly sexist. He falls prey to Mary, especially, but also Typhoid, because he is sexist. In later stories, like those collected in Typhoid’s Kiss, boorish, annoyed men’s rights shouting idiots are going to get their asses kicked. Rapey, pseudo-intellectual gas lighting dudes are probably gonna die.

Wolverine makes appearances, and c’mon, we know Wolverine has issues with women and how he ought to interact with them, and we, the audience, often cheer a bit for him and his inappropriate methods, especially when they work, and the ladies just love him more because he tore their skirt shorter or pushed his face into theirs because he knows they secretly like it.

Sexism is not only full-blown misogyny. It is not necessarily even rooted in hate. Erasure and dehumanization are also sexist. The reflex belief that a woman who does horrible things must be manipulated by men, controlled or forced or naively colluding is sexist. The hero complex of “if I save her, she’ll bang” is sexist. It is embedded deep in many of our heroic narratives, in our cultural anticipations, but that does not make it any less an individual’s problem. And, that’s what Typhoid cuts up. That is what Mary twists and pinches and bleeds. It is what the “warrior woman,” the “bleeding soldier” Bloody Mary wages war with.

It is where the fun comes in.

Any time you want to read Robert Crumb’s My Trouble With Women, I want you to pull Ann Nocenti’s Typhoid’s Kiss off the shelf. Save yourself.

“Aren’t you really nobody?” a young man asks the woman who is Mary and Typhoid, in Nocenti and Molly Crabapple’s Blindspot. She responds, having been exaggeratedly all over the place in the previous few pages:

“When I was little I had a pair of red rubber boots. My boots took me places. One day they got lost. I thought they were hiding under my bed. But they’re gone. I miss them. All of them.

“One of us is tender,
“one of us is not,
“one of us takes vengeance
“all four tied in a knot.”

Jan 17, 2018

The MCU Roundtable: Iron Man 2

If you’re anything like us, than you were blown away when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped. The extended Comics Cube family was so excited that we have decided to embark upon a full re-watch of the Marvel Studios film series. Every week we are going to watch and provide a roundtable discussion about each Marvel movie in release order. So far, we’ve done the first two movies that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Next, is the first sequel of the franchise.

Countdown to Avengers: Infinity War
Iron Man 2

Due to the success of Iron Man, it’s only natural Marvel would immediately start working on a sequel. Iron Man 2 was released on May 7, 2010 (can you imagine a time when an entire calendar year passed without a Marvel Studios movie?) and made $128 million on its opening weekend. It ended its theatrical run at $312 million in the United States and $623 million total worldwide. Despite a lukewarm audience response, it was still an incredibly successful film.



BEN: Tony Stark gained a heart in the first movie, and this movie is about the repercussions of that. He has to deal with his new heart poisoning him physically, emotionally, and mentally.

DUY: This is my second least favorite MCU movie and a huge part of it is that’s it’s so in-cohesive.

BEN: Favreau reportedly was getting a lot of interference from Marvel which is why it’s so all over the place. It’s also why he didn’t return to direct the third movie.

TRAVIS: One of the few times I think an action movie could use forty minutes put back in… and it would feel shorter.

ANTONIO: My favorite of the three.

JD: I liked it more than 3 .

LAMAR: Okay, this is the second time I’ve watched this movie and I feel like y’all owe me money for this go-round. I’d rather sit in church and listen to my grandma and her choir buddies run down the 2 Live Crew’s greatest hits than watch this miscarriage of fantasy again. Also, I’m a teetotaler and this movie makes me want to smoke reefer.

BEN: Oh look, Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is in this. The Invisible Woman (Kata Mara) is too.

DUY: Regarding Travis’ comment the first time about how they just let Tony be a jerk, it’s still true here. Stark commandeering the Senate’s monitors is only right because he happens to be right. Also, the Senator that you know is Hydra kinda colors this entire scene now.

BEN: Spoilers!

BRIAN: Still weirded out by the replacement of Terrence Howard as Rhodey. Cheadle does a fine job, but I’d like to see the alternate universe version with Howard as War Machine.

DUY: I don’t think Howard had the edge to pull it off.

BEN: I don’t really like either of them as Rhodey.

"Okay, this is the second time I’ve watched this movie and I feel like y’all owe me money for this go-round." -LaMar

DUY: After the first one, I wondered how they would follow it up villains-wise, because most of Iron Man’s villains are either outdated Cold War era villains like the Titanium Man or Crimson Dynamo, or lame ones like Whiplash. Somehow they gave both kinds.

SAMANTHA: Mickey Rourke is a train wreck in most of his films at this point, and I think that’s why I keep watching his stuff – guess I can’t turn away.

BEN: Rourke was definitely going for it, and he didn’t quite get there.

JEFF: I really didn’t care for Rourke in this movie, his casting seems so “flavor of the week” coming off The Wrestler.

BEN: Exactly that. Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer is much more interesting and a much better performance. I’m also really glad he didn’t get the job of Tony Stark previously.

JEFF: Rockwell stole almost every scene he was in. But that isn’t saying a lot for this movie.

JD: Justin Hammer was as close as Favreau could get to having his buddy Vince Vaughn in the cast. Rockwell killed it. He’s hilarious.

MATT: I liked Hammer, but overall this movie was a mess. Rourke was incoherent, literally, I need subtitles. Best to just skip and move on to Cap.

TRAVIS: I thought Rockwell and Rourke were both great. It’s fun. The performances are mostly what the movie has going for it.

DUY: Drunken Tony scene, shoot me.

"Rockwell killed it. He’s hilarious." -JD


BEN: Oppenheimer was an inspiration for this movie. Apparently he sunk into a deep depression after helping to create the atomic bomb, as the weight of what he had helped bring into the world began to sink in. That’s what they were trying to achieve with Tony Stark, which explains the odd drunk Iron Man scene.

DUY: Anyone who actually wants a “Demon in a Bottle” movie seriously overestimates how entertaining that would be.

BEN: The suitcase armor was cool as hell, and a great nod to the comics.

TRAVIS: The nerd jokes in this, like the Stark Effect, are funny and unexpected. I don’t gut laugh any more, but I do chuckle.

DUY: This five-minute Black Widow sequence just makes me wish she had her own movie.

BEN: It made the whole movie worthwhile for me, at the time.

DUY: I feel like they were going for the traditional sex appeal route with Widow (she has a “changing scene” and also some lingerie pictures in this one). The Disney purchase shifted that over to topless dudes.

"This five-minute Black Widow sequence just makes me wish she had her own movie." -Duy

TRAVIS: Which reminds me: I still don’t get where she was supposed to have been sexing all the male Avengers. At what point in this movie was she supposed to be remotely sexually interested in Tony? But, folks still talk like that was a real thing that happened.

DUY: She’s been actively interested in exactly one (whether or not that was the right one to do that with is questionable, and I’m sure we’ll get to that with Ultron). Anything else is people bringing in preconceptions.

SCARLET: I saw a bit of chemisty between her and Bruce in the first Avengers (and this was before Ultron came out) but it was kinda overshadowed by the relationship with Hawkeye, which surprised us all by being platonic.

DUY: I think she and Bruce had that moment in the first Avengers. I figured Hawkeye was platonic though, actually, and that they were more best friends than anything. But that was also partly because I was hoping Mockingbird would show up.

DUY: I’m so glad Cheadle is War Machine instead of Howard.

LAMAR: I wish Don Cheadle was Terrence Howard.

BEN: It’s interesting how Marvel was able to build such a strong reputation when two of the first three films are considered the worst of the franchise.

DUY: It’s because the next two deliver. Not as much as Iron Man, but just enough to build up that anticipation for Avengers.

TRAVIS: Cap really didn’t deliver anything for me well, except, well, Cap. It felt like it was a cut to be a prologue. A ninety minute scrolling yellow prologue set to Yankee Doodle. #90sCap4ever

"It’s interesting how Marvel was able to build such a strong reputation when two of the first three films are considered the worst of the franchise." -Ben


DUY: Three movies in and there’s been one good movie, pretty much. You could say virtually the same thing of the DC Extended Universe. So would the public be more accepting of the DCEU if it had come first? Same exact movies, just in an alternate reality where they come before the MCU.

ANTONIO: I don’t think that’s quite fair. If you break the movies down, sure, maybe there’s plotholes and issues, but all the performances remain enjoyable – at least with Iron Man.

BEN: Iron Man 2 and Incredible Hulk are good, not terrible. That’s the difference.

ANTONIO: I think it helped that Iron Man was clearly pointing towards and Avengers line-up.

LAMAR: The main difference with the two is Marvel set their universe up properly. Even with the not so good films, the universal narrative is still in place so the whole thing isn’t dependent on the movie quality as much. DC’s universe fails because the whole thing is set up wrong, so the mistakes are more glaring and defined.

JEFF: The movies are solid summer action movies, none of them leave you shaking your head like seeing the hero snap the villain’s neck at the end, and after the first Iron Man movie you knew that they were going to interconnect and building up to something big.

BEN: Jessica Biel, Gemma Arterton, Natalie Portman, Jessica Alba, and Angelina Jolie were considered for the role of Natasha Romanov a.k.a. Black Widow. Emily Blunt was originally cast, but had to pull out due to scheduling conflicts with the movie Gulliver's Travels.

ANTONIO: Jolie would have been weird.

BEN: Also, Eliza Dushku actively campaigned for the role of Black Widow, but did not get it, much to Duy’s disappointment.

DUY: Scarlett is the right person for the job. This was outside of Eliza’s wheelhouse.

BEN: Why, because she can’t act?

DUY: Essentially. She’d still have been the better Mary Jane Watson though. But Emily Blunt might have been interesting.

BEN: Who wins the award for “Best Supporting Actor?”

JEFF: I would say Rockwell, he was spot on and made the most out of the screen time he had.

BEN: It’s unfair to count Scarlett, so outside of her it’s Rockwell for me.

TRAVIS: Rockwell, I think, outdid everyone. I’m more entertained by Rourke’s scientist, though. Dudes both take Tony’s ego, father issues, and drive to impress and make way more complex mockeries of it.

JD: I have always liked this movie. I always thought of it as a The Avengers #0 kind of story. It introduced Fury and Black Widow and S.H.I.E.L.D. and War Machine. We got a look at the hammer (in the post-credits teaser) which everyone was asking about when they left the theaters. It was so much fun answering Marvel questions for strangers while I cleaned. Best supporting actor, the War Machine armor.

BEN: That’s an interesting point because the universe was expanding quickly and it was so exciting at the time. It’s hard to remember now, but it was so very cool that Black Widow was in this movie, and they didn’t have to give her too much screen time, it was the perfect tease for the future. I think that’s why even if the movies weren’t great, viewers were still ready for what comes next.

TRAVIS: The idea that there’s more coming, and that this universe will be huge, really comes to play with this movie.

DUY: Ehhh, I’m gonna go with Scarlett for best supporting actor. Really makes you excited for the future. I’m not really willing to give this movie an award that stands on its own.

"I have always liked this movie. I always thought of it as a The Avengers #0 kind of story."  -JD

PETER: I know we usually rank this and Hulk at the bottom of the MCU rankings, but for its time and on its own, it was fun. The only thing I didn’t like was Rourke’s acting and character. The Black Widow fight scene was quite a thrill at the time and remains excellent to this day. And I still don’t mind half paying attention to it when it’s on cable these days. It’s just that when you have to rank all 16 MCU movies, well one of them has to be 15th or 16th, right?

DUY: Yeah, I need to point out that this is the one MCU movie I didn’t see in theaters, due to my general dislike of the Iron Man character, by the time I’d seen it, Thor and Cap had already come out, so my personal bar was higher.

PETER: I don’t really have any comic book recommendations for this. Hammer’s daughter shows up as the villain in the Fraction/Larocca run and it’s not too bad, so maybe that.

DUY: Any other comic book recommendations for Iron Man 2? I’m gonna go with Waid and Samnee’s Black Widow run, which may provide a nice template for Widow going forward.

PETER: The Liu/Acuna mini-series was disappointing, but maybe I set my expectations too high because of the creative team.

BEN: Widow was great in Brubaker’s Winter Soldier comic too.

JEFF: Iron Man: Doomquest, The Mask in the Iron Man, Hypervelocity. There’s a good but forgotten Black Widow story from the old Journey Into Mystery days, recently added to Comixology, #517-519, worth a read.

BEN: Oh yes, the Iron Man vs Dr. Doom fights are great, mostly because they have my beloved Morgan Le Fay.

JEFF: Doom commanded that when the name Doom is spoken, greatness is always assured and expected.

TRAVIS: I’ll recommend Rucka & Grayson’s Black Widow, and a little farther afield, Transmetropolitan. Political gaming. Father issues. Burned colleagues. Dangerous wealthy fame-chasers. Angry, drunken binges you regret. And, sci-fi.

BEN: Final question, who gets the “Val Kilmer” award for dominating the movie? It’s hard not to say RDJ, since he’s the main thing keeping this movie afloat, and it’s easy to take him for granted with all the new shiny characters.

DUY: Anyone who says anyone other than RDJ is lying.

MATT: You could make a case for Rourke and his insane performance.

ANTONIO: Rockwell definitely gave it a go.

BRIAN: Favreau’s MMA skills all the way!


Jan 16, 2018

Crisis on Infinite Earths: A Personal Story

I've gushed before on how much I love the 1985-86 DC event Crisis on Infinite Earths. It's one of my favorite comic books ever, and is drawn by my favorite artist of all time, George Perez. But until recently, I don't think I ever realized how much it meant to me on a personal level.

Crisis on Infinite Earths: A Personal Story
by Duy

It could be said Crisis on Infinite Earths got me into comics, even if I didn't read it until 10 years into my fandom. That's because some of my first comics ever, the thing that really sparked the fire, were of the Who's Who in the DC Universe series, in which DC profiled their characters in the wake of this event. Specifically, there were these two pages:




Seeing the two Supermen side by side like that opened up a world of possibility for me. I may have always gotten into comics, but whether or not I would have is neither here nor there. The multiverse made me a fan.

Referenced throughout Who's Who, and almost every DC comic since 1986, was Crisis. But that was before the internet and before the days of regular trade paperbacks, so there was no way for me to read Crisis short of finding the original issues. And so it went, with me just picking up on what happened via flashbacks and references, until Christmas Day, 1998.

My mom managed to find the entire set of Crisis at the then–newly opened Comic Odyssey, and then my brother and I opened it and immediately took two seats. He took the first issue, read it, and then handed it over to me, and then I read it while he read the second. And we repeated that process, finishing Crisis within the day.

Four years passed and I'd been away from Manila for a year and a half, when they release Crisis in a trade paperback. Since I'd already read and had a copy Crisis, I bought the paperback and gift it to my then-roommate, taking it as a sign to get friends into the hobby. He got into it, and pretty soon schoolmates visiting us just started picking it up and start reading it, asking questions. One of our closest friends spent a whole afternoon just reading Crisis, just from randomly picking it up. A year later, I bought the poster, proudly displaying it in my room. It ended up being a conversation piece, with friends looking at it to just ask, who this or that was.


Fast forward to 2007, and I'd moved back to Manila. On my birthday, when my family gifted me the Absolute Edition of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a beautiful oversized book with top-of-the-line production quality and a ton of extras. I took it with me a couple of weeks later to the hospital, when I had to undergo surgery. With only my mom to keep me company, I figured I'd read this comic in this lush edition.

Except I couldn't pick it up. The surgery had made it difficult to lift anything even remotely over five pounds, so reading the Absolute edition of anything was out of the question. That's when my entire family came down with a fever, except for my then-seven-year-old nephew. So in an effort to not get him sick, they sent him to the hospital to keep me company. (Yes, I'm aware of the irony.)

My nephew was always pretty mature for his age, and even at age seven, you could have a conversation with him without talking down to him. He was the MVP of my 10-day stay in the hospital, talking to the nurses about things I needed, getting what I needed, and keeping me company watching Gargoyles.

And then he picked up Crisis.

And then he read Crisis, which, if you can imagine a tiny 7-year-old reading a gigantic book, looked funny. (We made a song out of it. It is imaginatively called "Little Man Reading a Book. A Big Book.") So he spent quite a good bit of time reading the comic and asking me questions about the side characters. It was awesome.

And I thought that was it, until December of 2017, when the Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped, and my niece said, "I want to get into superheroes." Now my niece reads comics already, but her superhero reading had mostly been things like Jeff Smith's Shazam or Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee's Thor: The Mighty Avenger, meaning self-contained, stand-alone stories focused on one core character and aimed at a very specific audience.

(Both are excellent, by the way. Check them out.)

So in accordance to her wishes, we had her read the Infinity Gauntlet, also drawn by George Perez. She enjoyed it, but didn't love it, the disappointment being caused particularly by the ending.

So to wash that taste out of her mouth, I brought over the Absolute Edition of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Then I pulled out the original issues (my brother kept that one). And we took a break from reading the Donald Duck books (this is our bonding thing) to read Crisis, her with the Absolute Edition and me with the original issues. We do voices and sound effects.

It's great.

Before thinking about all that, I don't think I ever realized just how connected Crisis was to my personal life. Every single time I'd read it or thought about reading it, it's left a milestone of a memory. They are distinct experiences, and they're always tied to people I've cared about.

Years ago, I named four comics that helped shape my life. I never named Crisis. I took it for granted. And maybe Crisis never changed the way I thought about stuff, or inspired me to create something, or drove me to be a better person. But it did affect and color my relationships with people I cared about.

And seriously. That's something.

Jan 15, 2018

Forgotten Juggernauts: The Baxter Legion

The Legion of Super-Heroes was the first modern comic book franchise.  It was the one of the first series to really embrace the soap opera capabilities of comic book storytelling.  There was a time, long ago, when it was one of DC’s most popular books.  In the years since, they’ve faded into the background, to the point where they go long periods without any new comic on the stands.  So today, we’re going to jump in the wayback machine, and look at a Legion of Super-Heroes story from when they were arguably at their peak.

Forgotten Juggernauts: The Baxter Legion

If you were a young fan reading the comics in the ‘60s and ’70s, then the characters practically grew up right along with you.  Some of them died never to return.  Some got married, and even had kids. This probably played a big role in the Legion of Super-Heroes being one of the top DC franchises by the ‘80s.  (Those same reasons are probably why it’s steadily faded every year since.  Younger readers might not have had the same investment in that growth.  That and all the Lass and Lad codenames don't mesh well with this "more serious" age of comics.)

The Legion was so popular and successful, that when publishers were experimenting with the new ‘Direct Market’ (selling straight to local comic shops) DC picked their top two books, The Legion of Super-Heroes and The New Teen Titans.  These comics were printed on better paper, called Baxter paper, and thus this era of the franchise became known as the Baxter Legion.  Along with the better paper, forgoing the newsstand allowed the stories to also have a slightly edgier "more mature" take, a more violent take.

So, that is where we begin, with Legion of Super-Heroes (volume 3) #1.   

The first two issues were written by Paul Levitz, penciled by Keith Giffen, and co-plotted by both.  Steve Lightle took over penciling on chapter three, Giffen remained as co-plotter and consulting artist.  Larry Mahlstedt inked them all.

CHAPTER ONE

The story begins ominously enough with Lightning Lord, older brother of Lighting Lad and Light Lass, promising to kill his younger brother.



While on vacation, Dream Girl is still shaken by a troubling prophetic dream, in which a Legionnaire is going to die.



It’s at that moment that Legion villain Micro Lad picks the single worst casino to try and rob, as he was not expecting Dream Girl and Star Boy to be on site.

On the planet Daxam, Mon-El and friends are surveying a landscape restoration project, in an attempt to undue the recent damage Darkseid inflicted upon the world (in the legendary The Great Darkness Saga).  Their work is interrupted by a notification that a Daxamite is destroying facilities and freeing prisoners on the prison planet of Takron-Galtos.  Mon-El, Shadow Lass, Ultra Boy, Timber Wolf, and Chameleon speed off to intervene.

Micro Lad attempted to shrink down to escape, but is stopped by Shrinking Violet, who proceeds to beat the pulp out of him.


(One of the great things about the Legion of Super-Heroes, is that generally their powers are native to whatever planet they hail from.  Long ago, the human race colonized the universe, and each colony developed special abilities in relationship to the planet they lived on.  Or they’re just aliens.  What this means is that almost every Legionnaire has an evil doppelganger.)

Before she can finish the job, a strange portal appears and whisks Micro Lad away.

On her home planet of Winath, the retired Light Lass is enjoying life harvesting giant mushrooms (as well as a lesbian romance, it's unclear). Her retirement is rudely interrupted when she’s attacked and kidnapped through one of those same portals.

The Legionnaires arrive on Takron-Galtos to find a young Daxamite, still every much enthralled to the dark lord Darkseid.  Here he is incinerating a non-believer with his heat vision.



(Like I said, more violent than your average happy superhero comic from the time.  Also, I love how everything in this story has history behind it.  Shrinking Violet’s obvious grudge against Micro Lad.  The Great Darkness Saga still leaving scars behind.  You’d think this would intrigue comic fans, but most seem to be repelled by it in the case of the Legion.)

Mon-El and the others are not very happy about this, but before he can be recaptured, the Daxamite boy disappears into another one of those portals.

CHAPTER TWO

The captive Light Lass receives a visit from her older brother, who definitely seems far more crazed and far more dangerous than he had ever been before.

The newly formed Legion of Super-Villains is executing the first phase of their plan, attacking a fusion powerspheres manufacturing planet, when they are interrupted by Wildfire and Dawnstar (probably my favorite couple in all of comics).



Legion headquarters gets the news, and Element Lad prepares to organize a counter-offense.

Wildfire’s containment suit is predictably destroyed, leaving Dawnstar on her own against three villains.  She’s seriously injured before Mon-El and Ultra Boy arrive as backup.  The villains escape into another one of their portals with the powerspheres.

Dawnstar and Wildfire get patched up while Cosmic Boy updates the retired, and pregnant, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl.



(If I may be a guy for a moment, Dawnstar is the sexiest character in all of comics.)

Elsewhere, Lightning Lord calls to order a meeting of this new Legion of Super-Villains.



(Much like in the best Avengers story ever, Under Siege, I love when the villains stop playing by imaginary comic book rules and assemble a large enough team to give the heroes a real challenge.  Much like in that Avengers story, the LSV here is done being cartoon super villains, and are displaying a new sense of ruthlessness that makes them seem like a real threat.)

Back at Legion headquarters, Element Lad has called in every off-duty leaguer he can, but they’re still short-manned.

Next, the LSV are attacking the polymer screen that surrounds the Earth, which serves various environmental purposes.

Element Lad, Lighting Lad, and Saturn Girl arrive to fight them off, but the villains escape into another portal with the polymer screen.  As a result of the action, Saturn Girl goes into labor.

On Orando, Karate Kid and Queen Projectra are ambushed on their return home.  Mist Master and Hunter use Karate Kid’s Legion ring to send out a distress signal to the rest of the league.



The Legion of Super-Villains have set a trap for them.

CHAPTER THREE

Already stretched thin, the Legion of Super-Heroes arrive on Orando in full force.

Elsewhere, Dawnstar can only watch as Mon-El, Ultra Boy, and Wilfire disappear into another strange portal.


Back at Legion headquarters, only Cosmic Boy and Invisible Kid remain after the rest of the team leaves for Orando.  Cosmic Boy gets a much needed call for support from the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

On Orando, Light Lass can only look on from her cell at Karate Kid and Projectra, who both appear to be in bad shape.  Lightning Lord arrives with one last plea to his sister to join him.



Light Lass refuses, and so he brutally shocks her with his bioelectric powers.

Dream Girl wakes up in a crash after their ship was attacked on approach to Orando, and is shocked to see the castle from her prophetic dream.



In Orando space, the Legionnaires are outnumbered and fighting for their lives against the LSV.



It’s not going great, but thankfully reinforcements from Earth have arrived.



While the battle continues, another group of villains finishes installing the polymer screen and power spheres around Orando.

Planetside, the Legion of Super-Heroes begin to turn the tide of the battle.



Using the power spheres as a boost to his natural abilities, Zymyr space warps all of the LSV members out of the battle, along with a few heroes.


Back on Earth, Saturn Girl and baby are recovering nicely.  Cosmic Boy checks in on his two oldest friends, suggesting that maybe the Legion needs some new blood.



(Imra is breast-feeding in this scene, which would have been pretty edgy for comics at the time.  It’s still controversial today in real life for some reason, when it shouldn’t be.  Like Drax says, we Earthers have hangups.)

Orando, the Legion is confused and bickering after the villains disappear with some of their friends.  Their confusion only multiplies as they watch all of Orando disappear into another space warp.



Somewhere beyond the known universe, Nemesis Kid celebrates his victory.  The next phase in the evil plan of the Legion of Super-Villains has begun.

CHAPTER FOUR

Nemesis Kid presides over his Legion of Super-Villains, many of whom were eager to continue fighting instead of “running away.”  Tyr in particular, is intent on challenging his authority.

A few of the others squash Tyr’s attempted disruption, and remind them all that they need to continue working together this time, if they’re finally to defeat the Legion.

Back in former Orando space, the Legion try to piece together what happened.  Brainiac 5 correctly surmises that since Dawnstar can no longer track their missing friends, they may have been taken into another dimension or plane of existence.

In her cell, Light Lass is shocked when her bonds mysteriously explode after she slams them against the wall in frustration.



She finds the recently captured Legionnaires in bonds next to Karate Kid and Projectra.  Not wanting to alert the LSV, she leaves to try and find a way to contact the LSH.

Karate Kid initially agrees, but realizes after she’s gone that their bonds must be draining their willpower.  Defiantly, he fights back against the machine, breaking himself free.



Light Lass was able to stow away on a craft, but soon finds out its full of villains on their way back to Orando to kill the Legion.  Before they can leave, she shorts out the controls knocking out three of her opponents, and stands alone against the remaining two.



Little do they know her original lightning powers have returned.

(One of the original conceits for the Legion of Super-Heroes is that no member could duplicate another member’s powers.  Lightning Lad and Lass being twins with the same powers, Lass wasn’t initially allowed to be a member of the team.  To correct this, her powers eventually evolved through shenanigans into where she could alter the gravity of objects, making them lighter.  Thus, she became Light Lass.  This was dumb, and justly overturned here.)

Dream Girl contacts Cosmic Boy at Legion headquarters, worried that he is an easy target.  Cosmic Boy eases her fears, having called in the Substitute Heroes as backup.

Now free, Element Lad and the other captive Legionnaires decide to strike first at the power spheres, while Karate Kid decides to take on Nemesis Kid alone.



(Nemesis Kid and Karate Kid both auditioned for the league at the same time, but Nemesis Kid was doing it to infiltrate the team on behalf of the alien Khunds.  He tried to frame Karate Kid as the traitor, but failed, and subsequently fled.  Apparently, he still holds a grudge about it.)

Element Lad and his team are greeted at the power spheres by Cosmic King and his team.  (Element Lad and Cosmic King both have transmutation abilities.)

On the ground, Karate Kid is losing badly to Nemesis Kid.  In the air, the rest of the Legionnaires aren’t faring much better, failing to destroy the power spheres. Projectra intervenes to try and save her husband, but her illusions aren’t of much help here.  Nemesis Kid begins brutally beating her, spurring Karate Kid back to his feet, to save his wife.



Karate Kid is still no match for his more powerful opponent, but he does successfully get his flight ring back from the villain.  Projectra pleads with him to flee, to save himself.



Karate Kid refuses, believing that it’s too late for him, but not for Orando.  Karate Kid flies straight into the power spheres, sacrificing himself to stop the Legion of Super-Villains.



CHAPTER FIVE

Projectra cradles the charred remains of her husband as the Legion of Super-Villains slowly surround her.



The only remaining conscious Legionnaire on site is Lightning Lass.  Frightened but determined to save her friends, she lands and prepares to face them all alone.  Before they can attack her, they are stopped by Lightning Lord.



Back in former Orando space, the science police request that the Legion return to Earth immediately.  As deputy leader, Dream Girl orders them to go, leaving behind Brainiac 5, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, and Sun Boy.

Sister and brother are locked in furious combat. Eventually, Ayla prevails but still stands alone against the rest of the villains.  Fortunately, as Element Lad and the others arrive just in time, “no Legionnaire EVER stands alone.”



Spurred by a new resolve and fueled by grief and anger, the Legion of Super-Heroes quickly turn the tide against the Legion of Super-Villains.

A furious Projectra hunts down Nemesis Kid.  Nemesis Kid initially shrugs off her illusions, but is stunned when he looks into her eyes.  She grabs him by the neck.



In her words, “my ancestors were wizards and kings, conquerors.  You are a common killer – a mad dog accidentally born in human form.”

“I need no power to destroy you – save the strength born in my blood,” and then she snaps his neck.



Brainy, Mon-El, Shady, and Ultra Boy are there in former Orando space to meet and defeat the villains attempting to flee.  But Brainy is not able to reverse Orando’s fate.

Back on Orando, Projectra vows to never leave Orando again after this tragedy.



They will secede from the United Planets, and finish their journey into another dimension.  Her former Legion teammates are free to leave with their captive villains in tow, but never to return.



As they travel back to the correct dimension, the Legionnaires are ambushed by Esper Lass and left stranded and drifting in unspace. 

That’s where we end it for now, my fellow Legionnaires.  The Baxter series pushed the series to another level, a natural evolution from the recent success of The Great Darkness Saga.  A longtime character was killed, another banished to a different dimension.  Necks were snapped, and breasts were fed.  In the ‘80s, writers like Levitz and Roger Stern were finally starting to realize that villains wouldn’t play fair, and implement that ideology into the stories.  Banding together a large cast of opponents gave the story a real sense of uncertainty, and established high stakes for the heroes to overcome.  They did not emerge unscathed.

This was the kind of “realism” that was making comics interesting at the time.  Not the “grim and grittiness” of it, but establishing a legitimate sense of danger for the heroes.  The most important thing for a comic book story, or any story, is the illusion that the hero might actually lose, even if you logically know in your brain that they will not.  That’s the whole trick, and the goal.  This story achieved that and more.

What more could you ask for?





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