Lying In The Gutters

Mon, November 12th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOLUME 2 COLUMN 130

Welcome to the most popular and longest running comics column on the internet. In its various forms, Lying In The Gutters has covered rumours and gossip in the comics industry for fourteen long glorious and quite scary years.

All stories are sourced from well-connected individuals. The veracity of each story is judged by me and given a spotlight - Green is the most reliable, Amber means there's likely an interest involved or the likelihood isn't set and Red means even I can't quite bring myself to believe it.

Lying In The Gutters is for your entertainment. Neither Fair Nor Balanced.

I'm going to be at the Big Apple Convention in New York this week. It's possible I may be performing "Lying In The Gutters Live" at some point, but if you want to meet up, give me a shout.

THINGS TO DO IN GOTHAM WHEN YOU'RE DEAD

[Yellow Light]Last week's rumour about Batman kicking the Batbucket to be replaced by a sidekick is kicking up steam. As Valerie D'Orazio picks up on, the original plan was for all the main DC icons to die and be elevated to the status of New Gods as part of the Fifth World, their sidekicks filling the roles they left behind.

However, that plan was abandoned internally at DC and reduced to a Bat-storyline by Grant Morrison. So look for Bruce Wayne New God to go head-to-head with Darkseid in "Final Crisis."

WEEKLY BAGLEY

[Green Light]We learned of the exclusive signing of Mark Bagley last week... but what will Bagley be working on for them?

Well, I'm told it's the DC weekly comic that will follow "Final Crisis," written by Kurt Busiek. Starring Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, Mark Bagley will draw every issue himself. Well, 14-16 pages of it anyway, for a whole year, with Fabian Nicieza contributing to a weekly back up feature with rotating artists.

Bagley is one of the faster professional comic book artists, regularly drawing 18 issues a year of "Ultimate Spider-Man" with a few other projects along the way. Along with the likes of Steve Dillon and John Byrne, he's probably the only big name who could manage such a workload.

Look for him to start work as soon as possible to get a few issues under his belt.

GREEN LIT

[Yellow Light]My good friendBrendon Connelly has reviewed a copy of the new "Hulk" movie script that fell into LiTG's posession. This may not be the final script. it may only be an early draft. But it might give some early indications of what we are to expect from the jolly green-grey giant.

The Incredible Hulk - script by Edward Norton. A review by Brendon Connelly.

I hated David Benioff's script for "Wolverine" so much that Fox muscled up to me with 100% unjustified legal bullying just for publishing my opinion. I wonder if I can inspire the same kind of bitter stupidity in Universal? Let's give it a go, shall we?

The first page of this Incredible Hulk script was marked "Part One Flight," though the subsequent two acts aren't eventually labeled once (or, indeed, if) you read that far. They are, however, really rather clearly delineated and I would suppose they were probably supposed to be called something like "Discovery" and "Confrontation". You can file those as pretty conclusive plot spoilers, if you want, because the story really is that linear, predictable and simplistic.

Turn over from the odd opening heading, however, and the script's best idea immediately begins to unfold - the inspiration that this isn't an origin story, but that it will work as one. This is, of course, a smart move because while the majority are absolutely correct and Ang Lee's Hulk film was utterly dreadful in just about every respect (some cinematography and production design are all I can find to praise, personally) a different, overlapping majority would also be correct to roll their eyes and click their tongues at the desperate early rebooting of a supposedly easy-sell franchise. "Blade 2" didn't have to disregard the naff "Blade" to stand up as a decent film in it's own right; Richard Lester's "Superman II" wasn't hampered too much by Donner's smug, overlong opening chapter; "The Empire Strikes Back" stepped away from the utterly vacuous characterization and dialogue of the original "Star Wars" to manage some depth and humanity without recourse to dumping everything that had come before.

But, fair enough, "The Incredible Hulk" is cleverly a sort of pseudo-sequel semi-remake non-origin origin, which I can't help but admire. But aside from this, there's not much to recommend the final film that this script is suggesting.

If you were to carefully unpick Wolverine's story from the two Singer X-Men films, you'd lay out a journey in many ways similar to the travails of Bruce Banner in this script: a loner keeping a low profile who knows that he is being hunted; he loves a woman that is with another man; he is tormented by dreams of the military scientific experiments that made him what he is. Mush into the middle of this some tropes on loan from the Spider-Man series - a job in pizza delivery, a University setting, knock-down super-powered brawls on the streets of New York - and we're getting something all too familiar to those who know the Marvel movies so far. And, sadly, nothing much unexpected happens in the joins between these dots either.

The element that came closest to catching me off guard was the portrayal of the Bruce Banner-Betty Ross-Sam Adams love triangle. Samson, as the script always calls him, is very sympathetic to Bruce, and to Betty's feelings for him. Quite unusual.

The Hulk's adversaries are Thunderbolt Ross, of course, and Emil Blonsky who - spoiler alert? - later becomes (an) Abomination. There are three action sequences in the film, well spaced out, one per act, and each in a very different locale: 1) a neighborhood in Brazil, and the bottling plant there where Bruce has been working while 'off the map'; 2) a University that gets overrun by Ross' forces and ends up taking an almighty amount of collateral damage; 3) the streets of New York city. Again, in this third scrap, the script specifically points out that a University building is smashed up. What does Ed Norton have against higher education, I wonder?

In each of these conflicts, Blonsky is in a different state - plain old human at first; then a superhuman - speedy, and supernaturally strong; and finally, massively mutated, abominable, grotesque. But he's definitely the key antagonist in each bout of violence with so many other military figures swatted aside like flies, not only by The Hulk but also Norton's script. Between the battling, however, Blonsky takes a backseat to Ross in most respects. This is one symptom of the underwriting of Blonsky's character, as well as of the sudden impotence of Ross when the conflicts are stepped up to an action-sequence level. Neither of these is very satisfying and, at best, render the action sequences rather ersatz rather than organically entwined with the drama.

I think we all know now what color the new Hulk is - a green with a certain amount of grey - but the script plays guessing games with us for quite some time. In the first act, Blonsky is our key eyewitness to The Hulk, but has his testimony of the big boy's color impaired by his use of night-vision glasses. There's a handful of jokes about the color but, frankly, if they aren't undermined by the images we'll by necessity see in the film up to that point, they will be by the trailer, poster and action figures. It'd be wise to cut them all, in fact.

No such ambiguity over Abomination. Grey, and identified as such, and marked with sharp bony protrusions that he uses to slash at, pierce and...er... graze The Hulk. Actually, Abomination is presented as being so formidable the only reason I can see in the script at all for The Hulk being able to defeat him is simply that he had to, that a happy ending was required, that in "films like this, that's how it goes." Again, the importance and relevance of the action sequences is undermined.

And that's not to be understated because, essentially, a Hulk film is going to stand or fall on the quality, resonance and satisfaction inherent in the smash-em-up sequences. By that reckoning, this Hulk film is, at the script stage, on it's knees, and Louis Letterier is going to have his work cut out helping the big beast up onto his feet. The divide between Banner and Jolly Green Giant is never crossed in a satisfying fashion... and what is it with this new gimmick? The gamma radiation pulses out of Banner's brain stem, sending ripples of glowing green transformation through him. Hmmmmmm. Does this come from some part of the comic book canon I just didn't bother with?

Perhaps ironically, I am now expecting rather a lot from the "Wolverine" film - Gavin Hood has a proven track record, and there are extensive rewrites in the bag from just before the strikes - and very little from The Incredible Hulk.

Incidental trivia: Lou Ferrigno's cameo is indicated clearly. He's in as a security guard.

Thank you Brendon! And here are some pictures from the shoot, filmed in a Rio de Janeiro slum.

BLACKED UP DOSSIER

[Green Light]DC/Wildstorm publish "League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier" in the USA this week. I'm flying in to JFK this weekend to pick myself up a copy, because no copies will be officially distributed outside of the USA, a situation DC puts down to "international copyright concerns and related issues."

This is being a little economical with the actuality.

It's no secret that DC has had a rough relationship with both Wildstorm and Alan Moore over the last few years. Since they were bought by DC Comics, Wildstorm have repeatedly come into conflict with the parent company over a number of projects and issues, and over time the pre-DC staff of Wildstorm have left, been promoted within Warner's or have been pushed out. Scott Dunbier was pretty much the last mainstay at Wildstorm and he was fired.

As for Alan Moore, he has repeatedly criticised the company and Paul Levitz over their treatment of him and his work, in quite a personal fashion.

And there do seem to have been a number of inconsistent movements regarding certain Alan Moore projects that give the appearance of a personal dimension to the decision making process. And a recent demand, as Moore did with "V For Vendetta," that his name be taken off the Zack Snyder "Watchmen" movie seems to have been the last straw. Dunbier was fired, and "Dossier" was withdrawn from international distribution - so that no copies be sold in the country in which Alan Moore lives.

The issue comes down to a difference in copyright law between the US and the rest of the world. Uniquely, the US law states that any work published before 1923 is public domain, while the rest of the world takes it from a set period, 50, 70, 100 years, after the author's death. So, the work of HG Welles is in copyright in Canada, the UK, Australia etc, but in the public domain in the USA. However, this did not prevent previous "League" books featuring The Invisible Man, The Time Traveller, Dr Moreau, The Martians and the like being published worldwide. It can be argued that "League" is a transformative title, even a work of parody. And so "The Black Dossier" features a number of characters that fall in the middle of the US/rest of the world divide.

However, there has been considerable disquiet about the whole situation within DC. I have been informed by people physically close to DC's legal department that they had, with a few recommended minor tweaks to character names, cleared "The Black Dossier" for international release in all areas. However Paul Levitz, who had expected the department to come to a different conclusion, did not accept their judgement and made his own. And a number of people in the New York office have been vocal in their complaints (even if only in the bar after hours).

Of course there are ways and means. All the major London stores I know have sourced copies of the book through Diamond-serviced stores and book distributors in the USA to deliver "grey market" copies. Amazon.com is shipping copies internationally, even if its sister companies Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk are not. Indeed, it may be a boon for comic stores as they will find little or no competition from bookshops in the United Kingdom such as Borders, Waterstones or WH Smiths. UK licensed publisher Titan Books may not see it that way, however, and certainly the overall sales will be considerably less.

The following e-mail was also sent out via Diamond:

***** REMINDER: LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: BLACK DOSSIER SALES RESTRICTIONS

Dear Retailer:

Please be reminded that due to legal concerns, DC Comics is limiting its sales of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: BLACK DOSSIER to customers in the United States.

Anyone that resells copies of this book outside of the United States in contravention of DC Comics' territorial restrictions does so at its own legal risk and can be held directly liable for damages in any action that any person or entity might bring claiming that the book violates or infringes his, her or its rights.

Accordingly, DC Comics asks that you not make any sales of this book directly to consumers outside of the United States or to any third party that you have reason to believe intends to resell such copies outside of the United States.

Thank you for your cooperation.

DC COMICS

It might be worth reiterating that the 'legal concerns' mentioned may not be those shared by DC's legal department.

And one peculiar twist in the whole copyright issue, a few weeks ago, saw DC's Executive Editor Dan Didio write a strip featuring the adult versions of Charlie Brown and Linus summoning a pumpkin demon from hell, and sacrificing Snoopy in the process.

Oh, and of course, if the notoriously litigious EON choose to act over the limited use of a character similar to that created by Ian Flemyng, the US-only publication won't be a factor in whether they sue or not.

This week, artist Kevin O'Neill, of whom not enough fuss is usually made regarding the "League" (something this column has clearly been guilty of) is touring the United States signing copies of the Black Dossier.

And probably taking a gross back in his suitcase to put on eBay.

AN EXPENSIVE LUNCH

[Yellow Light]A couple of years ago, I'm told that a senior VP at DC Comics met with one of the most senior figures at Warner Bros. for a chat.

The DC VP was boasting about the richness of story at DC's Vertigo imprint. And why not, they had lots to boast about. The Warner Bros. exec asked in that case why DC and Warner weren't developing more of the books into movies. The DC VP mentioned that DC don't necessarily control all of the Vertigo media rights anymore, but that was one reason why they got creators to write such great stories in the first place - retaining a level of personal creative control.

The Warner Bros. exec was not a happy bunny, asking why they would create a contract that saw the company lose money on a number of books, hope to make it on the collections, without having the safety net of full media rights.

The DC VP was made to amend Vertigo contracts for new creators from that point on, giving DC Comics and Warner Bros. a greater stake in potential media exploitation, and less control for the newbies.

BYRNE IT ON YOUR BRAIN

[Green Light]It appears that even John Byrne has a "Bad Byrne" story.

Sidebar. In my first studio in my former house, there was a fireplace with a wide mantle. I set my Super Powers action figures in a line along this shelf (in alphabetical order, which hardly anyone ever seemed to pick up on!)

One afternoon, during one of my summer parties, I wandered into the studio to find a small clutch of my fellow professionals had gathered in there. One of these was a good friend, who had brought with him his wife and small daughter (maybe three years old). I walked in to find her sitting on the floor playing with my Aquaman figure. "She was bored," said my friend, "so I gave her Aquaman to play with. He doesn't matter."

His exact words, burned into my brain. I took the toy from the child* and replaced it on the shelf. "Does to me," I said.

*Don't swing at the easy ones.

ROBINSON JUICED

[Green Light]So why was Jerry Robinson made a creative consultant for DC Comics? Some have stated that it's an honorific role, in gratitude and respect for his work on Batman, co-creating characters like The Joker and Robin. But I'm told he is actually working on a major project for DC with a number of big names.

And what's also true is that, as an employee of DC Comics, he won't be suing DC for extra payments or reversion of rights. Which, with "The Dark Knight" hitting the screen in 2008 and The Joker as the lead, would be a perfect time. Robinson was a key figure in aiding the Siegel and Schuster estates in their fight with DC and Warner Brothers, and negotiated payments for life and guaranteed credits with Jack Liebowitz's nephew. Jack Liebowitz was the co-owner of DC, the man who bought Superman for $130.

Robinson took on the case when he discovered that Siegel and Schuster were penniless, rather than well off as he believed and, as a political cartoonist, took the fight to Washington and Hollywood while Neal Adams riled the fans.

Neal received a big check for Ra's Al Ghul in "Batman Begins." Others received significant sums also, a payment organised without legal necessity by Paul Levitz .

But Jerry gets an actual position, basically, and income for life. After last week's announcement from DC, he's a loyal, rich, member of the team. And there's no pesky legal precedent over payment being set.

Joe Kubert, are you next?

AMERICAN GRAFFITTI

[Green Light]

Taken in Brooklyn.

BITS AND PIECES

What a wonderful week for comics? "Black Dossier," the last two issues of Mark Millar's "Unfunnies," "Ex Machina" trade, "Scott Pilgrim," "All Star Superman," "Meat Cake," "World War Hulk…." Lots of good stuff to pick up off the New York comic stand. But I won't be buying the new issue of "DMZ" when I'm in New York. Based on that experience, I'll wait till I get home from the States.

I understand Aaron Lopresti is signing an exclusive deal with DC Comics.

Thomas Mauer, letterer of "The Flying Friar," is now lettering the new "Kong" comic from Markosia.

Andrew Wheeler of Ninth Art fame has a book out. The best of British food, gloriously celebrated and notated.

So has Chris Knowles, ex-Marvel freelancer. He's written "Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes." An alternative history of superheroes, tracing them back to the various occult and spiritualist groups of the Victorian Era like the Theosophists and the Golden Dawn, and following their development through the pulps and the various counter-cultures of the early 20th Century. The book is illustrated by Joe Linsner of "Dawn" fame, who also did a smashing cover.

From Marvel's profit announcement, this column enjoyed, "Operating margins increased in the Licensing segment to 69% in Q3 2007 from 61% during Q3 2006 due to higher overall sales, the higher weighting of Spider-Man JV revenues and the benefit provided by the settlement of the audit claims." Ah, but who audits the auditors?

Don't you love superhero-based sex rhyming slang? Look, it even made it into song.

Oxford is getting a comic shop again. After going from three to none, the new store is setting up in Videosyncratic on the Cowley Road, close to where I used to leave, and within slouching distance of the city's army of students.

It appears that IDW's "Doctor Who" series may well fall foul of licensing issues and won't make it to the UK - sacrilege! So, it's another trip to the grey market, or wait for Marvel Panini to reprint them under their UK licence.

Pictures from the Hulk movie, filmed in a Rio de Janeiro slum.

Posy Simmonds is going to do her first ever signing in a comic book shop. Author of "Literary Life," "Posy," "Gemma Bovery" and much more, her new collected graphic novel "Tamara Drewe" will see her step foot into Nottingham's Page 45, with Bryan Talbot to hold her hand. Sunday, December 9th, 1-3 pm. I'd get there early.

Sometimes it's fun to see how Marvel UK (Panini) put out books differently

SMALL PRINT

Discuss this column at the Lying In The Gutters Forum and add your request to what you want from future columns.

My social networking is pretty much all Facebook these days, but I'm around at Bebo, MySpace, ComicSpace and Twitter, too.

Use eBay to help pay for my flight to New York too...

And my Wii number is 0512 2690 8446 2879

Contact me on richjohnston@gmail.com or on AOL Instant Messenger as TwistRich.

You can also write to me at 8 Robin Hood Lane, Kingston Vale, London SW15 3PU ENGLAND

Or call me/text me on 0780 1350982 from the UK or 01144780 1350982 from the US.

Lying In The Gutters Home | Lying In The Gutters Archives

 
Lying In The Gutters

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.