Permanent Damage: Issue #135

Wed, April 14th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

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  • Episodes from the freelance life:

    In a perfect world, we'd all be sitting at our desks, generating new characters and concepts to be published. Unfortunately, publishers have a taste for established properties (taking a tip from car dealers who now call used cars "pre-owned vehicles," we'll dub them "pre-created properties"), and more often than not assignments are got not because pitches have gone out and gone through channels but because a company comes up with something they want to publish and they need it yesterday. It's just the way the business usually works, especially in these days when creator-owned properties are the redheaded stepchildren of the business.

    So late Sunday night I get an e-mail from a publisher who has abruptly decided he needs a project on very short notice. Additional problem: it's a licensed property, which means any story idea has to not only please the publisher but pass muster with the licensor.

    You may never have dealt with licensors, but, usually, you're not dealing with one person but with a company, and you're dealing with them vicariously, through the publisher's representative. When you're dealing with a company, you're often not dealing with the same employee from one encounter to the next, and each employee feels they have to "put their stamp" on things, more to prove they were there than anything else. If a company has specific guidelines it's usually not much of a problem, but, if not, the "rules" become a matter of personal taste. One person, for instance, may not bat an eye at swearing whereas the next (particularly if they have no real experience with modern comic books and think all publishers aim their books at kids) may need to be talked off the ledge over it. Then there are social responses, like abruptly deciding there should be no nudity or suggestive sexual content because Janet Jackson bared a breast at the Super Bowl. (This hasn't affected comics, as far as I know, but TV networks went into an absolute panic over it.)

    I was planning to use Monday to wrap up a pitch for another company I've been trying to get finished for weeks. (I've been beating the plots to death.) So I take a quick scan of the property and what's been done with it. Fact is, given the parameters we have to work with (it has to fit into an established continuity), finding a new wrinkle takes a little work.

    There are publishers and there are publishers. (And editors and editors.) Some want to back and forth ideas, some want exactly what they want (usually without giving any real guidelines to start with) first time out and if you don't give it to them you're obviously not on the same wavelength so it's on to the next possible writer because there's no time to lose. In my experience, the ones who want you to read their minds usually aren't worth working with in the long run anyway. This guy's easier than that, though he's willing to leave the parameters mostly to my judgment.

    Here's something that's turned into a social taboo, particularly since Columbine: kids. Particularly evil kids, or harm coming to kids, even evil ones. Which is too bad, especially since our concept of "kid" has reverted as far as the late teens and even, for some, early 20s. (That there are those who wish to treat all of us as children is a separate issue.) I don't believe there's no such thing as a bad kid. I believe bad kids are usually the result of bad parenting, which isn't quite as transparent an observation as it sounds, but it's more complicated than I care to get into, so let's leave it at that. I've seen kids do lots of bad things; that kids can be flat out evil strikes me as fit fodder for fiction. (Check out J.G. Ballard's RUNNING WILD.) "Kids as villains" also strikes me as a thorny problem for almost any hero, and one that confronts our justice system as well. How do you deal with juvenile offenders? Should they be treated as adults for severe crimes? Is "zero tolerance" a fair approach? Given the understanding of technology that many kids (teen and pre-teen) far exceeds that of their elders, it doesn't strike me as far-fetched that, in a more technological world, young people would increasingly take not necessarily legal advantage of technology for a variety of reasons that wouldn't necessarily mirror adult concerns. Which makes them interesting to write about.

    So my initial push was kids of varying ages involved in bad things. Bad enough to make it interesting for the hero, which meant bad enough that severe punishment was necessary at the end.

    Big problem. Turns out – I had no idea – that the licensor has an absolute taboo about jeopardy to children, particularly of the sort I had in the resolution. Was it tasteless of me to push such a story? Possibly. To his credit, the publisher quickly came back to say it'd never get past them, could we rework it a little? I did, but wasn't satisfied with the result. But an offhanded remark sent me suddenly off on a completely different story idea that clicked. All problems solved. Back and forth isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as both parties are trying to work together instead of at cross purposes.

    None of this a complaint. It's just how the business often works. Much as most of us would like to view comics as an "artistic" medium, in the vast regard it's commerce, and whatever self-expression or exploration we manage to work in we work in surreptitiously, while trying to serve commercial goals. There's nothing right or wrong about that, it's just how it is. Comics writing is actually closer now to the way it worked in the 1950s than it has been in 30 years. (It's also worth distinguishing between your own projects – the ones you create and visualize, and pre-created properties. No matter what the circumstances, you're a hired gun on the latter. Bear it in mind, and choose your fights carefully.)

    Which isn't to say we shouldn't keep pushing. It's more important now than ever to keep pushing. It's just worth remembering pushes – probably most pushes – get brushed aside. You can respond to that two ways: you can get snide and cynical, or you can come up with a more appropriate (and hopefully better) idea, and keep trying. Pick one.


  • Speaking of "pre-created comics," Marvel took an uncharacteristic step away from them with the recent creation of their Icon imprint for creator-owned properties. Not entirely uncharacteristic; Marvel was the first company to respond to "creator-owned" companies like Eclipse and Pacific in the early '80s by spinning their slowly-fading EPIC magazine – itself a response to HEAVY METAL, which, legendarily, Stan Lee saw on an airport magazine rack and thought Marvel should have something similar – into the Epic line. The Epic line was originally concocted as a reward for Marvel's top talent, and designed specifically to publish Jim Starlin's DREADSTAR (which, ironically, spun off from an Eclipse graphic novel). This changed when Archie Goodwin took over as editor and opened the gates. Not that Epic ever published that much material, but it quickly spun away from its roots as a "gift" to selected talents. (It's unlikely Steve Englehart and Steve Leialoha's COYOTE – didn't that also began at Eclipse, or was it Star*Reach? – would have appeared there had Archie not championed it, and I had a series in the works at Epic for awhile, a "magic comedy" that developed the nasty habit of signing up artists who then vanished off the face of the earth and never saw the light of day because of it.) Epic petered out in the '90s as Archie went to DC and the market shifted, and a few different attempts to create both creator-owned and company-owned lines failed – by then most of the original "creator-owned" companies had collapsed and newer companies were leaping on the "company-owned universe" model and pushing their books as collectibles to the detriment of creator-owned titles and the industry at large, so there was no more real pressure for Marvel to compete in that game – and later regimes were uninterested in publishing creator-owned comics as they re-envisioned the company as a license factory more than a publishing house, and there was no point in publishing properties they couldn't exploit. Which makes sense from a business standpoint. "Creator-owned" comics have been a concern of Marvel editorial, regardless of regime, dating back to the end of Epic, since the editors more than the businessmen understand the virtue of keeping talent in-house, a lesson taught to them hard by the advent of Image in '93, but it was hard to translate that for stockholders, which killed even Bill Jemas' attempts at an Image-style line done on the cheap for very little in talent costs.

    Since rumors of Icon surfaced last week, I've read virtually nothing but fans blasting the concept for their own misconceptions. Most interesting are presumptions that Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming, in shifting POWERS from Image to Icon (and, to a lesser extent, David Mack relocating KABUKI) was somehow stabbing Image in the back, and Marvel was harming Image's standing in the business.

    Look, Brian and Mike would be idiots not to take advantage of the possibility. I had one guy suggest that if they really felt the need to move POWERS they should take it to somewhere like Oni Press, presumably out of solidarity against the empire. But what would be the point? Shifting to Oni might preserve "indie cred," whatever that's worth, but it certainly wouldn't increase sales on the books, which could reasonably be assumed as a motivation for the jump.

    While I've heard various scenarios from retailers, there's little doubt sales for POWERS and KABUKI will rise from their Image levels, partly due to being under the Marvel umbrella (sales could reasonably be expected to rise to the neighborhood of 20,000 per) and partly due to the swirl of attention and new notoriety with the announcement. From the standpoint of Bendis, Oeming and Mack, this is a plus. I've heard people denounced Brian for working on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and ALIAS instead of POWERS and suggested he was a hack for ignoring his creator-owned property to serve the empire. But, as my grandmother used to say: love is like butter; it's better with bread. At a certain point, as a freelancer earning a living and paying bills via your talent, you have to soberly look at just how much time you have to put into a project that brings in no income, no matter how much you love it. It's part of what being an adult is, unfortunately. Don't forget: Image pays no talent fees. Which is fine, if a comic makes money off the back end; after a cash flow is established, a normal life is possible. But most comics don't pay on the backend, which means a lot of work is done for, really, nothing. Except personal satisfaction, and, trust me, that erodes every time you can't pay the phone bill. Moving POWERS to Oni would be a grand gesture, sure, but it would gain Bendis and Oeming no advantage. If shifting POWERS to Marvel means that can make at least a little money off their labors, great. More power to them.

    As to the suggestion they or Marvel are damaging Image, if it happens it happens. If you go that way – I wouldn't recommend it – you can easily counter-reason that Image damaged the book and creators by not selling them better. (I'm not accusing Image, I'm just following the logic.) Talent is no more obligated to make decisions based on the probable damage to publishers than publishers are to make theirs based on probable damage to talent. This is a business. You make decisions based on what's to your greatest advantage, however you perceive that. And Marvel's certainly under no obligation to consider the damage to Image. They're competitors. That's what competition is all about. (Given sales, if Marvel were doing this to damage Image, I doubt KABUKI and POWERS would be the books they'd go after.)

    If nothing else, this shakes up the business a little at a time when shake-ups are desperately needed, and is a wake-up call to Image and other companies. It's time to get creatively competitive again. With all the chatter, it's still not clear what the Icon deal really is – are there advances, page rates, or does it duplicate the Image deal where the company pays nothing but publishing costs to be recouped off the back end, with any profits going to the talent? – but, at least at the moment, it seems likely it's back to the original Epic concept of an invitation-only "prize" for select talent deemed valuable to the company. If that's the case, there won't be many wider repercussions. At least not unless creator-owned books make enough money and get enough media interest that Marvel's bosses come to believe them worth publishing for their own sake, and that's a big if.

    There are a lot of questions in the deal. None of that changes the bottom line. In a perfect world, Icon will be so successful it'll prompt other companies to figure out how to become competitive because, for the first time in a long time, they'll have to be. At minimum, congratulations to Brian, Mike and David for getting their creator-owned projects a new chance, and big congratulations to Dan Buckley and Joe Quesada for convincing Marvel to take the step. Even if the line's never more than a boutique label for select talents, it had to have taken hard and continuous work to get it passed and it required dedication to the concept. So congratulations to them too. Whatever the other ramifications of the line, that's still fighting the good fight.

    And the rest of you crybabies, I swear you'd bitch if they were hanging you with a new rope.


  • What a fascinating week in politics. Condaleeza Rice finally testified publicly before the commission investigating 9/11, after months and months of the White House refusing to cooperate with them (even though the Hand Puppet ostensibly named the committee), refusing to hand over documents, trying to get it shut down on procedural grounds, etc., and blowing it completely. It's not so much what Rice said, because she didn't say much of anything. It's how she didn't say it. With an eye on a ticking clock – the White House only allowed the commission a few hours of her valuable time – Rice over and over followed the Rumsfeld model, answering questions by reinventing them as other questions, then answering them in vast eruptions of jargon apparently designed to do little more than say as little as possible in as many words as possible, forcing the commission to waste much time getting her to, oh, acknowledge that a pre-9/11 brief about Bin Laden planning actions in the United States (the White House took it in stride, the same way the Hand Puppet did – you can go watch the footage – when notified of the attacks on the Trade Towers and the Pentagon) involved just that. But Rice was triumphant enough to declare there was no "silver bullet" about 9/11, meaning, presumably, the Lone Ranger wasn't in New York that day. Did she mean magic bullet (coined to describe the Warren Commission's single bullet that ricocheted several times through two men, hitting bone and vital organs before coming to rest, intact, on a hospital gurney miles from the scene, in order to justify their lone nut assassin conclusion)? Single bullet? Smoking gun? Or that al-Qaeda's got something to do with werewolves? Who knows? Whatever the answer, Rice's performance, if "letters to the editor" pages across the country (including many letters supposedly from Republicans) are any indication, only generated more frustrating with the administration. Richard Clarke may indeed be the lying disgruntled ex-employee the White House has been trying to paint him, but when he testified he answered the questions put to him and didn't shirk a share of blame for what happened, something Rice and the White House have been going out of their way to dodge. Then again, Rice still doesn't acknowledge she was dead wrong in the late '80s on the impending collapse (or, from her point of view, unlikelihood of it) of the Soviet Union. (Turns out, despite White House condemnations, Clarke's assessment that their focus was always on Iraq and they had no interest in al-Qaeda prior to 9-11 is supported by a number of other intelligence experts who've left the White House out of annoyance not only with their behavior prior to 9-11 but with the way they've transformed, on spurious grounds, a supposed "war on terror" into an occupation of Iraq. Just as it was once decided the CIA would be the fall guys for 9-11, before they fought back and killed that policy (whatever the CIA's inclinations, they don't include falling on their sword), today word's traveling the FBI's next in line for patsydom, despite testimony that the FBI took concerns about terrorism to their boss, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, who wasn't interested. The current administration continues to try to point fingers at the Clinton administration, but that's pretty much undercut by their refusal to release 75% of the Clinton-era documents about al-Qaeda, though it's still undetermined if that's just because the docs put the lie to the administration's insistence that they got no pertinent data from Clinton or simply to satisfy White House insistence that the executive branch is outside scrutiny by other branches of government. Or the public, for that matter.

    So it's interesting they're going through the strongest scrutiny they've received since the suspect election of 2000. Despite constant reports of how the economy is "improving," polls indicate a lack of general lack of confidence in the economy. (Or, as some TV comic said, the White House announced 300,000 new jobs were created last week. Unfortunately, 295,000 of those were in Taiwan. As other presidents learned the hard way – someone's father, if I remember right – it doesn't matter how well the economy's doing if the public doesn't feel it personally.) The scrutiny of 9-11 and the White House's response to it hasn't exactly raised perceptions of administration competence. Topping it off is the worsening situation in Iraq, a year after the Hand Puppet blithely informed us the war there was over. It is, I guess; now we're in the uprising stage, a natural outgrowth of the Administration's arrogance in the wake of the invasion. It was predictable from the elder Hand Puppet warned his son not to go into Iraq without an exit plan (the advice was ignored), from the moment the administration decided "democracy" in Iraq meant the Shi'ite majority couldn't have a role in government commensurate with their numbers. I'm not necessarily in favor of a Shi'ite dominated Iraq, but that seems a logical outgrowth of any real democracy there, just on mathematical grounds. But wait! Wasn't it Sunni Ba'athists who wanted us out? Whatever our version this week of who's trying to disrupt the planned turnover of power well before our November elections, it hardly changes the growing perception of Iraq as the new Vietnam. Teddy Kennedy was chastised when he dare mention the comparison last week, and it's true that in the details they're not really parallel situations, but "Vietnam" doesn't symbolize specific details. It has come to represent a military quagmire, with ever growing numbers of dead American soldiers and more and more troops thrown into a country whose citizens increasingly saw us not as saviors (however we portray ourselves at home) but as a problem to be solved, a cancer to be removed. Heard a report on NBC Sunday morning from a military analyst who estimated potentially 260,000 "rebels" in Iraq, and around 15,000 American troops. Those aren't good odds. No idea if that's accurate, but he also mentioned some people are suggesting we put more soldiers into Iraq, but between Iraq, Afghanistan and other commitments we're already stretching our forces thin, shooting down Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's vision of the US military as teams of highly efficient pared down strike forces than can hit various hot spots simultaneously, but that only works if you don't stay in any of them. Start targeting clerics, as we have, and it projects the impression to a great many Muslims around the world that our protestations of having no religious bias was smokescreen. The fact is that America could easily "win" in Iraq, as we could have in Vietnam, but here, as there, it requires openly and consciously behaving as monsters, and if there's one thing Americans cherish, it's a self-image that we're "the good guys." It's hard to sustain that when doing monstrous things, which would probably result in a much wider war anyway. Meanwhile, you've got Colin Powell basically telling Kennedy to shut up (or, in Powell's words, be "more restrained and careful" in assessing things). You've got the military telling reporters covering Iraq to show "the big picture" (meaning not more pieces that don't talk about the small bands of malcontents screwing everything up for everyone; lord knows war correspondents aren't supposed to cover what the enemy's doing, though I guess they'd be "peace correspondents" in Iraq, since the war's over there) even as NBC interviews a man apparently once considered to be "the human face of Iraq" for something involving shoes (I never heard of him before) and he says that while he's glad Saddam is gone, the US presence is making things bad in Iraq, you've got Paul Bremer shutting down Iraqi newspapers for "inciting violence" and sparking violent protest by Iraqis who can't quite figure out how democracy is served by crushing freedom of the press.

    Know what? I can't figure that one out either. (Turns out one of the paper's big sins was suggesting Bremer himself was behaving like Saddam, so Bremer goes and proves it. Smart.)

    In any case, it's a mess. Like 9-11, it's a mess that seems to have been avoidable if anyone in the White House had been paying the slightest attention instead of deciding on their agendas in advance and doggedly pursuing them. No wonder they don't want to explain themselves.


  • More mail:

    "[Re: alternative comics marketing] My idea is basically working on the model set up by websites such as Homestar Runner and Achewood, in that the initial 'product', flash cartoon or serialized comic strip (respectively,) works as a loss leader to selling merchandise and or collections of the loss leader.

    Hopefully this is sounding a little familiar... For a while now the theory has been that monthly comic book installment sales will indicate whether or not the book should be collected as a trade. While this theory obviously doesn't work in trademark cases like Superman or Spider-Man where the existence of a comic book carrying their names seems obligatory, in cases of new and especially creator-owned titles (THE LOSERS or ARROWSMITH) the sales of individual issues definitely determine the chances of later collection. And it is this later collection that appears to be where the comic book market is heading.

    So my proposal is: instead of the monthly comic book working as the loss leader for a collection, why not an internet based serialization? Publishing on the internet is much cheaper than trying to find enough capital to work up a worthwhile monthly publication and website hits and or pre-orders could be used as an indication of how many people would by the trade. This sort of publication model would definitely suit independent comic creators. (Perhaps in this model we'd find the new Dave Sims?)

    I can see where people currently within the mainstream American market (which seems to be the mainstream comic book market for the 'Western' world...) would have problems with this, it doesn't offer any initial payment and pretty much ignores the existing systems that freelancers and work for hire creators rely on.

    However change is never easy, and perhaps this could help ease the move into a more book-like system of publication. For one thing, it's the basis of my upcoming publication stemming from my university honours dissertation.

    PS: I have a feeling that if the wrestling model was to be followed in nainstream American comics there is no way in the world Warner Bros would let go of Batman, Superman and possibly Wonder Woman (in that order...) so what you'd be left with is a universe full of Marvel characters and mostly second string DC characters. And this wouldn't really benefit anyone, so I don't see it happening any time soon."

    I imagine if Warners seriously sold DC to Marvel, they'd probably cut a deal whereby Marvel would produce Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman comics but the merchandising rights would stay with Warners. It'd be like any other licensing deal, and I don't see why Marvel wouldn't go for it, since it would at minimum give them bragging rights to three of the most popular characters in the world. But, you know, the whole thing would come down to the money involved. How much would it be worth to Marvel to be able to publish DC characters, and how much would it be worth it to Time-Warner to not have to publish them? As for the marketing scheme, Internet marketing has its own hidden costs, but I certainly don't expect it would be any most costly for the self-publisher than paper publishing, and would probably have a better chance, given the peculiarities of the direct market, of reaching the intended audience...

    "I imagine that your column will have some discussion of the recent upswing of violence in Iraq and the 1st Marines' response. I was a History major at West Point and served 5 years in the armored cavalry (plus my father is a retired Marine Colonel), so I wanted to offer a bit of comparison with Vietnam and other counter-insurgencies. I feel like this is important because sometimes it seems like news guys really don't know what they are looking at when they report on these battles (although Newsweek has made a real effort to get some qualified military reporters in recent years), but we are all affected by these events. Moreover, if comic book readers really are the younger segment of our population, then they probably have a little more at stake here than Americans over 25 - who are no longer eligible for selective service. Classic guerrilla war theory sets forth a long-term, two phase approach to ending occupation by a more powerful nation. First, the insurgency attacks isolated targets to inflict a steady drain of casualties over a prolonged period of time. This is meant to demoralize the more occupation army, to weaken overseas domestic political will to continue to the struggle, and to weaken the occupation army's combat power by forcing him to move increased resources from the front to rear areas in order to protect logistics assets (currently this necessity is referred to as "force protection operations" by military briefers). At a certain point, the theory says that the insurgency should weaken the occupation enough to be able to confront the stronger military power in open battle and forcibly end the occupation. Mao-Tse Tung was very good at this - he did this against both the Japanese and the army of Chiang Kai-Sheck. The NVA attempted this twice: successfully at Dien Bien Phu and unsuccessfully during the Tet Offensive. Of course, one of the architects of this strategy, George Washington, executed it perfectly at Yorktown after a 15 year insurgency against British rule.

    It's important to understand this strategy because it explains why there are so many battles raging all at once. One of the more successful ways the US Army (and to a lesser extent, the Marines) fought the Viet Cong was by aggressive patrolling to force the enemy to come out of hiding - where they can then be killed. This tactic was successfully employed in Fallujah yesterday, where the Marines killed God-alone-knows how many insurgents with 4 US casualties by using virtually every weapon in the US arsenal in the space of a few short hours (rifles, tanks, machine-guns, mortars, artillery, tanks, various attack planes, and the AC-130 gunship). Mass casualty weapons like artillery and the AC-130 can't be used against an insurgent army in hiding, but they are very effective against poorly trained troops trying to lay an ambush.

    We seem to have been less successful in other parts of Iraq, and at this point, you have to wonder if Iraqi leaders believe our presence is so weak that they feel like they can attack us directly after only one year of insurgency. One of the reasons that a lot of military folks opposed to war was because it offers little hope of a quick, successful exit; you'll note that the key element of both insurgency and counter-insurgency is time. Isn't it disturbing that Kerry seems to be heading away from discussing this as an election issue when it probably should be the issue given that the President's main job is to set foreign policy while the Congress controls spending and domestic issues? I don't want to give you the wrong idea; I was adamantly opposed to the war. Two of must USMA classmates and one girl I served with in Korea have been killed in the last six months. These were great Americans with wives, kids, etc. All through the lead-up to war, I thought the French position made sense - let the inspectors work, and then, if necessary attack from a standpoint of collective security with the UN. Plus, the costs of long-term containment were much lower than the costs of war by any reasonable measurement. From a geo-political standpoint, the mistakes here have been too many to name; last week even George Will turned on the administration's handling of the occupation.

    Having said that, as a former military professional, you have to admire the Marines. They have been developing doctrine for this fight (military operations in urban terrain [MOUT] and low-intensity conflict [LIC]) for over a decade, and they seem to have done a good job of forcing the insurgency into the open. I pray for the kids over there every day, and I thank God that I got out 4 years ago."

    It's very hard not to be impressed with the overall quality and training of US soldiers, which makes it all the more painful to see them wasted in a mess like Iraq. But, if you look at history in general, the problem has rarely been with soldier. The problem is usually the men handing out the orders. That said, you're right that it's disturbing Kerry isn't discussing this during the election season. I don't know, though, that I'd necessarily say the main job is to set foreign policy, though that's certainly part of it, and it's certainly not the job of the president to set it as though he's in a vacuum. Furthermore, it's Congress that's supposed to have the power to wage war, not the President. But Congress hasn't been a huge obstacle for this administration in any case.

    "Just wanted to let you know Sean Penn won his Oscar for MYSTIC RIVER, not 21 GRAMS. So your opinion was vindicated."

    Too bad the same can't be said for my memory. Shows how much attention I pay to the Oscars.


  • Fox's 24 (9PM Tuesdays) is into its third act for the season now, and I'm having trouble deciding whether it's the best season ever or total flaming crap. Structurally, this year's been a bit different from the others, changing modes and swapping out villains at breakneck pace, letting it avoid most of the lag periods that stained the two earlier seasons but causing a surfeit of abandoned and throwaway storylines. (What happened to the apparently kidnapped guy Sherry Palmer interviewed in the house trailer? How come Jack no longer symptomizes heroin addiction? Why waste time teasing a character's going to be pivotal when she's killed off twenty minutes after she's introduced? Who's taking care of Chase's baby?) It's absorbing but also jarring; it has a tendency to knock you out of the moment and remind you you're just watching TV. For a show like 24, that's a dangerous tightrope to walk. But if it ends with Jack under arrest for helping a Federal prisoner escape custody and Palmer announcing he's not running for another term, it might just be worth it.

    If you haven't read Gilbert Hernandez's PALOMAR (Fantagraphics Books; $39.95 hardcover), collecting his bittersweet "Heartbreak Soup" stories from LOVE AND ROCKETS about the residents of a small Mexican town through several generations, taking them from innocent childhood to confused and precarious adulthood. Together, the stories accrue into a true graphic novel, and there are parts of them, especially a very long section involving murder, monkeys, secrets and personal politics that's absolutely breathtaking, and the production is impeccable. Just terrific; there's no other way to describe it.

    Former Marvel editor and current WRITE NOW! editor Danny Fingeroth has written a non-fiction book, SUPERMAN ON THE COUCH (Continuum; $19.95), ostensibly exploring the psychology of the superhero. Deep it's not, though considerably deeper than most writings about superheroes (and an absolute abyss compared to anything WIZARD's ever printed on the subject), but Danny writes in a pleasantly breezy style that keeps it fun, with at least a couple of unexpected insights. Take a look.

    Josh Howard's DEAD@17 reappears with a new mini-series, BLOOD OF SAINTS (Viper Comics; $2.95) that starts widening out the series mythology. There's not a lot new to say about the book based on the first issue – it's basically a reminder of what went on before, establishing the ups and downs of the heroine's new existence and throwing in a couple of new elements (and unfortunately brings back elements the first mini seemed to have dispensed with) – but Howard keeps it moving, with decent art and dialogue and good coloring. A decent set-up, but I reserve judgment for future issues.

    There aren't many mini-comics that suggest slickness, so the nicely drawn color cover on Greg Thompson and Robbi Rodriguez's HERO CAMP (Atomic Chimp Enterprises; no price given) makes it stand out. The guts aren't bad either, a vignette about a kid with no apparent superpowers humoring him former superhero parents by going off to camp to learn to be a hero. The interior art's not as slick as the cover work, but it's not bad. Finally, an amusing unexplored take on superheroes that's not trying to pawn itself off as parody. Pretty good. Let's see more.

    I hate reviewing anthologies. Not because I don't like anthologies, because there just isn't time to critique every contribution for most of them. This is particularly true of PROPHECY VOL. 1 (Sequent Media; $29.95), one of the best comics anthologies since the heyday of RAW magazine. Despite a vast array of content and art styles, unlike most anthologies there's virtually nothing in PROPHECY that doesn't play as an accomplished, confident work, and those few that on closer inspection don't are well masked by the gorgeous production. With over fifty contributors ranging from Scott McCloud to Gerry Alanguilan to Bernie Mirault and many others, it's quite an experience. Really good, a benchmark all other anthologies should aspire to.


  • One quick note: last week I reviewed the forthcoming 2020 VISIONS collection by Jamie Delano and various artists coming from Cyberosia ($29.95). One thing I didn't know at the time: it'll be hardcover. (My copy's a paperback.) While I'm at it, let me reiterate my admiration for Jaime Delano's work, and re-suggest everyone order a copy of 2020 VISIONS. While you're at it, order:

    DAMNED: trade paperback from Cyberosia, art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, coloring by Kurt Goldzung

    Crime. A parolee jumps parole to fulfill a promise to a dead cellmate, and finds himself hunted by mobsters looking for missing money he knows nothing about, in a city where he has no friends.

    MORTAL SOULS: trade paperback from Avatar Press, art by Philip Xavier

    Crime/horror. A police detective tracks and kills a female serial killer, only to gain her gift of seeing her targets for what they really are: the dead, who run the world, and who hate the living.

    BADLANDS: trade paperback from AiT/PlanetLar Books, art by Vince Giarrano

    Crime story, set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.

    BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY: text from AiT/PlanetLar

    Screenplay version of BADLANDS, designed to ward off anyone who wants to make a movie of it.

    PUNISHER:CIRCLE OF BLOOD: trade paperback from Marvel Comics, art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

    Crime. The original mini-series that transformed The Punisher from a minor character into a movie-franchise spawning star. Imprisoned for his killings, the Punisher fights to survive and escape, but the war he declares on organized crime once he's out takes an unexpected turn.

    HATED AND FEARED: Best Of X-MEN UNLIMITED: trade paperback from Marvel Comics collecting a number of short X-Men stories, including two by me: a "Blob" story with art by Sean Phillips, and a "Lockheed The Dragon" story drawn by Paul Smith.
    GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR: trade paperback from DC Comics, art by Mike Zeck, Gil Kane, Scott Kolins and Klaus Janson

    Superhero action. Three generations of Green Lanterns – the alien Abin Sur in the old west, Hal Jordan joined by the Atom in the Silver Age, and the modern Green Lantern Kyle Raynor – battle an unstoppable cyborg powered by the stars and driven by a religious calling to snuff out all life in the universe.

    FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp

    Science fiction action. The most faithful adaptation of a screenplay in history. From the version of ROBOCOP 2 that was never filmed, Frank Miller's vision of the decaying future city of Detroit is realized for the first time, as Robocop crosses swords with a demented squadron of military police and a program-altering self-proclaimed moral watchdog, while the real police go on strike and OCP readies an even more powerful Robocop to replace him.

    MY FLESH IS COOL, mini-series from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp. To quote COMICS INTERNATIONAL, which gave it an 8 out of 10, "An experimental drug enables Evan Knox to work as a highly paid assassin and troublemaker who can take over other people's bodies. He can get to anyone, anywhere, without detection. He does whatever he wants, and uses other people in a ruthlessly instrumental way. The catch is this: what if everyone could get their hands on the drug? Both script and art are adult and gritty. This comic is cool."

    I encourage the patronage of local comics shops where applicable, but don't forget that if you can't find what you want there, you can always shop the fine online retailers Khepri and Mars Import. Lately I've been getting a lot of e-mails from people wanting to know what address to send review copies to. If you continue reading down to the bottom of the column, it's right there.

    Finally, a few people have asked what happened to Avatar's Vivid Comix. They're still coming but have been held up to nail down distribution to the adult market as well as the comics market. I'll let you know when soon.


    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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