Permanent Damage

Wed, May 21st, 2008 at 2:06pm PDT | Updated: May 21st, 2008 at 7:58pm

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

I never dealt with Berkeley comics shop owner Rory Root much -- just wasn't much occasion for it, since I only saw him at comics conventions and I go to precious few of those -- but he was one of my favorite people in comics, always a joy to deal with, and I never saw him express anything but total love of the medium, and no matter what he was always glad to see me. I never quite knew why, but let's face it: there's nothing better than someone who's glad to see you for no reason. Which always made me glad to see him, and I'd be really glad to see him now. But I guess that won't happen anymore. So long, Rory.

On a much brighter note, Marvel Comics is getting involved with the effort to help classic Marvel artist Gene Colan pay his growing medical bills, which is great news, and kudos to those guys.

Speaking of Marvel, and retailers, a Midwestern retailer tells me that the number of SECRET INVASION #1 that he sold was a third of the numbers he did for either CIVIL WAR #1 and INFINITE CRISIS #1, which isn't a good sign of anything. He also reports that sales on the first SECRET INVASION tie-in issue of NEW AVENGERS are down from the month before for his store. Which surprises me a little, since so far SECRET INVASION has been fairly entertaining, and I've especially liked the background issues of NEW AVENGERS and MIGHTY AVENGERS, which have nicely drawn the battle lines and tipped readers (especially those like me who don't follow Marvel books obsessively) to devious moves and countermoves already made, and made me more interested in how things play out. (Given that, obviously, Marvel Earth is more than likely not going to end up the new homeworld of the Skrull Empire, though these days I could almost imagine Marvel pulling that, almost.)

On the other hand, you may recall I've been concerned for a few months about readers hitting saturation point with sweeping crossover epics, both at Marvel and at DC. The last time saturation point hit, mid-90s, sales on the things crumbled precipitously and damn near took much of the American comics industry with them. So it was always a little unnerving that both Marvel and DC greeted the new century with the apparent master plan of hinging most of their lines on supermegacrossovers. After each of which, of course, "nothing will ever be the same again."

But the same as what?

The things are dangerous. If you stage "line-wide" crossover events, as popularized by CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, which did, of course, intend full throttle to make sure "nothing will ever be the same again" and then, of course, everything ended up the same over and over and over again, until, after INFINITE CRISIS there maybe weren't infinite earths but there were a damn sight more than DC had ever given number to previously. From the notion that serious change should come out of megacrossovers we quietly shifted to the idea that nothing important should change, or will, and many readers will only suffer through so many of those before they start believing they're unimportant. From a marketing standpoint they're a notorious triple whammy. Many readers shy away from titles connected to the main book because far too often the connection is used to hype those titles but the connection turns out to be tenuous and the book unnecessary to the main storyline and the reader ends up feeling cheated. On the other hand, if a connected book (and I'm not talking crossovers in the original sense, like the story Marv Wolfman and Steve Englehart concocted once that began in TOMB OF DRACULA, ended in DR. STRANGE, and starred both characters, but of "standalone" crossover series like SECRET WARS that have their own books) is essential to a crossover series, then that's an ineptly written crossover, from a readers' standpoint, because any essential information should be in the main storyline -- and, if the storytelling isn't inept, is reiterated there ("He gets his power from black hole radiation? Why, over in my own series, Jimmy and I discovered while battling Count Average that vibrations from a flugelhorn cancel out black hole radiation!") and makes the "essential" book redundant, unless you just desperately have to know every detail. (Which, I guess, is what they're hoping for.) The flip side of that is that if a crossover is marketed as a major, universe changing event, titles that don't connect to or reflect that series are often viewed by readers as secondary or tertiary books, unnecessary and unworthy of cash or emotional investment. So whether a big crossover series is going to do your line good or harm -- and lots of comics companies have floundered on the shoals of desperate superhero line megacrossovers -- is a crapshoot at best.

Not that Marvel and DC haven't been surfing that wave for a good long time now, as long as I'm beating nautical metaphors to death. DC, appropriately, seems in fact to have pioneered the concept of the infinite crossover, with a babushka doll structure where each crossover ends not by concluding but revealing another crossover. Or so the plan would seem. It has sort of fallen apart with time, as these things tend to. (Not a slam on DC or its planning abilities; it seems to be just the natural entropy in the system, something everyone thinks they can avoid until they find themselves drowning in it.) The number of little mini-series that fed into INFINITE CRISIS is lost to memory, then INFINITE CRISIS generated 52, and that's where things backed up because while 52 sort of generated COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS, what with the legion of nutjob Monitors and a socially dysfunctional little supercrew hopping around a dozen or so Earths, but the multiple earths don't seem to have had a lot of impact on the DCU otherwise. And somewhere along the line a virtually total disconnect between COUNTDOWN and FINAL CRISIS occurred, despite the latter being referenced in the former's full title, since the main player in FINAL CRISIS meets his apparent end in COUNTDOWN's big climax.

But that's just the first puzzling element of the buildup to what would seem to be the megacrossover to end all megacrossovers. DC UNIVERSE #0 was promoted as a bridge between COUNTDOWN and FINAL CRISIS, and one of those many "great jumping-on" points that comics publishers and creators now like to talk about with a seemingly William Blake-like conviction that a sincere belief that something is so will make it so, but it turned out to be only a coming attractions sampler that only really made sense if you already had a firm grasp of DCU history and politics. They followed this with a FINAL CRISIS SKETCHBOOK, a fine enough idea on its own merits but a questionable sales tool, since it's composed mainly of vague redesigns of Jack Kirby's NEW GODS characters, a concept that time and time again since Jack and the characters parted company have failed to ignite much enthusiasm in the readership at all, and in terms of presenting any ideas that might grab the imagination, the best the book suggests are that Darkseid "casts no shadow because he is the shadow" - a line that sounds great in a pitch but, Lamont Cranston jokes aside, fights against a coherent visual interpretation -- and that good New Gods and bad New Gods now wear their own discernable and opposite team badges. Why is this what they've decided to share? Where are the "Big Ideas" writer Grant Morrison has legendarily built his series, including the generally excellent SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY, around? Why isn't DC teasing the readership with those, instead of reminding us that a name as cringeworthy as Glorious Godfrey exists?

Probably something to do with the cult of secrecy that has festered in comics marketing departments since the early '90s, apparently on the theory that whatever the Big Reveal is it's so big it'll draw in all that audience that never read the series in the first place. Despite being badly disabused of this notion with The Death Of Superman, whose leaked "secret," that Superman would die at the end of the issue, sent sales to the stratosphere, DC's marketing in particular tries to keep their cards close to their vest, as if this were a big poker game where the reader has to see their bet to see their hand. Marvel's marketing isn't far behind, and they seem to be veering in DC's direction with their megacrossover plotting template too. One thing Marvel always had going in their favor was the relative discontinuity of their superseries; you could read and understand the events of CIVIL WAR without ever having touched "Avengers Disassembled" or "House Of M," and they've generally been better about keeping their non-connected books from seeming like second class citizens as well. The events of CIVIL WAR fit into WORLD WAR HULK, and various Marvel Universe threads run through all these storylines, but they can all be read independently and be relatively satisfying reads on their own merits. Is it significant that SECRET INVASION seems more intimately linked to CIVIL WAR (if Brian Bendis isn't simply selling, he started setting up the former well before the latter saw print) and SECRET INVASION seems poised to answer questions CIVIL WAR left dangling?

In fact, if standard sum zero plotting of superhero comics, where all things eventually return to status quo, holds sway, INVASION would seem to hold the "solution" to WAR. But Tom Spurgeon made a good observation recently when reviewing DC UNIVERSE #0:

"Cosmic crossovers were fun when I was a kid because they took my favorite superheroes out of their everyday circumstances and placed them into a context where everything had great significance, just like the life I imagined for myself. One of my favorite, cliched plot points of 1970s and early 1980s superhero comics is the pause before the storm, where the writers would underline the gravity of the situation by having the characters reflect and brood. There's a crudely effective scene or two of this type early on in one of the Avengers vs. Thanos crossover battles, there's a ton of them in Master of Kung-Fu and perhaps the most famous example from that period can be found in the Uncanny X-Men issue before they fight for the life of Jean Grey on the moon. You know, fighting a superior opponent for your friend's life on the freakin' moon is a pretty romantic concept. Of course you'd want to lay some groundwork for that aspect of it. No wonder I liked those comics.

Anyway, there's no time for that kind of emotional build-up now. Worse, there are no longer any normal routines from which characters may be temporarily plucked. Everything is Armageddon in today's superhero comics. The stakes are always turned up to 11. If something earth-shattering doesn't happen this month, next month we'll learn that everything we know is a lie."

That's the booby trap. It's the poker mentality again, where stakes must constantly be raised to keep the game interesting, and, if cleverly applied, to trick your opponent into protecting his already substantial stake when the smart move to protect his interests would be cutting his losses. And I sometimes fear that mentality, which is certainly not thought of in that way or acknowledged in the comics business, hasn't convinced a lot of professionals to, let me stress unconsciously, view the readership as the enemy sitting across the table.

But poker is the wrong analogy, and, again, a dangerous one. The problem with poker is that raising or calling aren't the only options a player has. A player can fold his cards and cut his losses. Worse, a player can walk away from the game.

Here's the right analogy: all fiction, especially pop fiction, in whatever medium, is a magic trick. We perform magic tricks. Here's the thing about magic tricks: they fool the audience, certainly, but that's not their object. Audiences aren't a magician's enemy but his collaborators. He invites them to become part of the trick by observing it; it doesn't properly exist without them. Here's the thing about magic tricks: everyone (aside from credulous idiots) knows they're fake. Everyone knows the magician isn't really sawing a woman in half and putting her back together, or pulling a rabbit out of thin air. But they buy into it because they want to buy into it, because what magic tricks represent, however fraudulently, is the momentary intrusion of the idea of the miraculous, the anti-mundane, into mundane existence.

The brush with the miraculous, unsurprisingly, is also the main appeal of superhero comics, or used to be.

This is the other thing about magic tricks: more often than not, the magician will tell the audience what they're about to witness, and then perform the trick. It's warm up, as well as a key to misdirection: get them looking at the trick you want them to see, as opposed to the trick that's really going on. Because as much as people wonder afterward how a trick was done, they don't really want to know, because they're there to see the illusion, not the reality.

There are only two ways for a magician to screw up: perform the trick badly, or let the audience see how it's done. Which is performing a trick badly even when it's performed well. But if a trick is done well, people don't leave in the middle of it. If enough tricks are done well, they don't leave until the show's over. If they're done really well, they come back for another show.

The downside to magic tricks, to most things, is that even a trick done really well can only be done for the same audience so many times, even if they never figure out how it's done, before it too becomes just another element of the mundane. A little repetition is pleasant. A lot of repetition is just boring.

I've said this before but it fits here: Stan Lee's real gift wasn't his writing, though he was a good comic book writer, but his ability to get the audience to buy into the illusion of them as his collaborators. For all that Stan's ego seemed to run amok in '60s Marvels, that was a key to the trick he pulled off, one that nobody has successfully pulled off since. Maybe it's time superhero comics stopped trying to outbluff their audience -- or, worse, treat them like sinful penitents there to receive holy communion from God's representative -- and start encouraging them to collaborate in the illusion again. And maybe it's time the supermegacrossover series were back burnered, and Marvel and DC came up with another trick, before the audience heads for the door in droves.

The upshot is that, if the response to SECRET INVASION can be generalized from the specific (also gambler's logic, and risky at the best of times), it represents for DC either a great opportunity or a very bad omen.

And retailers: click here to let me know how SECRET INVASION sales and FINAL CRISIS interest are going in your shop(s), all responses confidential, of course.

A fistful of letters:

"Not going to take you to task for your anti-Hillaryism (though I'd like to make a suggestion that you ask yourself why you've so easily accepted the right-wing talking points - oddly being rehashed by the so-called progressive community - as your "reasons" for disliking Hillary and then asking how blind you might be to sexism as opposed to racism, but I digress). I did find your analysis of Speed Racer's flaws a bit, well, odd.

As [for your comments on IRON MAN and SPEED RACER]:

Point 1: "So IRON MAN killed SPEED RACER at the box office this weekend - SPEED RACER appears to be the first major bomb of the year"

Well, I don't know of anyone who suggested that Speed was going to top the box office for the weekend, and most analysts (quite correctly) noted that even a 50% drop for Iron Man this weekend would still leave the film as the top draw for the weekend. Speed was expected to (at best) take in 30-35 million, while Iron Man was expected (at worst) to pull in 40 million. I believe the studio actually downplayed expectations for Speed by indicating they only expected a high end figure of 25 million. As to the "first major bomb", didn't they say that about 10,000 B C and Jumper, or is there something more to it that I'm missing?

Point 2: "I'm sure there are those out there who will cite this as an example of how the manga "fad" is dying down. (Seem to be a lot of comics fans speculating that manga is "cooling," but it's still going strong here after eight years, so I think it's a bit beyond the "fad" stage and just because not every manga published here is selling well doesn't mean those that do sell well are slacking off or that manga on average still doesn't sell much better than American comics on average.)"

Actually, I think the "manga dying down" may be attributed more to the fact that several manga publishers have been oversaturating the market, and at $9-$15 a pop (with some series pushing 20 and 30 volumes--and more), the manga market is seeing a long overdue "correction". Sales of the volumes through Diamond are still very insignificant (top sellers rarely crack 5000 copies) while sales through mainstream bookstores are largely available ONLY to publishers. The latter point could have something to do with the (presumably) fully-returnable nature at the mainstream book chains (knowing that 100,000 copies of Big-Eyed Weepy Child-Teen Vol 22 went on sale on November 15 and 95,000 copies had been returned by May 15 probably wouldn't make for happy investors; OTOH, knowing that Volume 22 had sold 175 copies in its first week, then sold so many copies in each following week is probably not much more satisfying but it is a slightly more positive take on the sales matter, and, of course, not seeing your title on the Publishers' List can be disappointing but you can console yourself by saying it sold just below the cut-off point for the week). When you take the manga dollar figures versus the regular comics dollar figures (or even the companies' overall dollar totals or percentages), they're still the proverbial drop in the bucket for the comics shops who can't easily take the frequent mass-dumping of manga titles in a given week. Just imagine how many comics shops would survive if Marvel or DC decided to drop-ship 75-90% of their titles in just one week of the month (look at Diamond's weekly shipping lists in a given month and note how the percentage of manga books, especially from Tokyopop, seem to fall on just single week); some of the bigger LCSs might survive, but hundreds would close (especially with the way so many comics fans will go in now just to buy specific books and leave without anything not on their "pull lists"). Some manga publishers, especially those with a fairly niche-ish market (read "yaoi" or "adult"), have either shut down entirely or have become veritable "internet-sales-only" publishers (some have just become just as unreliable as other indie publishers, offering titles for solicitation but being cancelled outright or "resolicited" in a later Previews months down the road, only to suffer a repeat performance).

Point 3: "I suspect it's more suggestive of bad logic behind such films as SPEED RACER: there are no grounds for presuming that anime fans have any interest in live action versions of the anime they love. Especially since many of them are as enamored by the anime style and voice actors as by any story elements, and very little besides story elements gets captured by live action."

Um, maybe so, but I think anime and manga have such a nearly-incestuous relationship that it's hard to really consider the effect on a live-action version. It would be fairer to say that it's all dependent on the specific genre of the manga/anime. Crying Freeman was widely viewed as a truly successful manga-to-anime-to-live action film largely due to its easy-to-translate nature (at its core, it's a gangster film) and the last decade of JapaHorror has been a fairly successful cycle of live action-to-manga-to-anime (in one form or other) while SF is harder to pull off (Akira will be THE film to watch on this point, if it does finally get made). As to the voice actors comment, this may be a definite point with Japanese audiences (who DO appear to follow voice actors the same way American audiences follow on-screen actors) but I don't think anyone in this country beyond the die-hard anime fans give a fig about. And, in all honesty, those aren't the people who were watching the English-dubbed "Speed Racer" cartoons when they were shown in the US; they may have picked up copies of the original Japanese-language "Speed Racer" toons later (since, for many, "Speed Racer" and "Kimba" were the first serious Japanese cartoons to make an impact in the US, albeit with AmerEnglish dubbing) but to follow those voice actors when they finally got the original "Speed Racer"s would be akin to falling in love with Marlon Brando in The Wild One in 1978 only to see his next performance in Apocalypse Now in 1979. Then, too, if one can completely duplicate the anime experience in a live-action film, what's the real selling point for the live-action film? If one looks at Enchanted, there's a traditional Disney cartoon BROUGHT to life which itself is the selling point. That film couldn't be made as a cartoon since the whole point is the cartoon characters are exiled to "the real world". Or Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The gimmick was that the 'toons did, in fact, exist as real "people". We didn't get an "outsider" view within the story; we just had the set-up that this was how the world was--that the 'toon actors were as real as Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. (You might note that the "Roger Rabbit" comic books published in the early 1990s largely had to stay within the 'toon world because of the difficulty in drawing the 'toons and the "real" people. Even the Marvel GN adaptation, as well done as it was, suffered largely because all the characters there were "comic book characters".)

Point 4: "SPEED RACER is sort of a double whammy because while it tends to be fondly remembered by those who watched it as kids when it first aired in America, it wasn't that widely aired and I doubt the vast majority of Americans ever heard of it. "

Really? You think so? I have to say, so what? Hundreds of movies are made every single year that are based on something that "the vast majority of Americans" probably never heard of (or actually paid much attention to). The whole of The Lord of the Rings trilogy? You really think the "vast majority of Americans" were widely familiar with Tolkien before Jackson's films? The Harry Potter franchise? Didn't really take off until the second novel was released and still didn't become "acceptable for adults" until the first film's release? Even then, it was the release of the movie that got major interest by those who'd never heard of it. (A very similar case could be made for Eragon or that Lemony Snicket movie. Heck, I knew next to nothing about Narnia--other than it being "kiddie fiction"--until the first movie.) Big Fish? I never heard of it until Tim Burton's film. Brokeback Mountain? That one I only knew about because I happen to read The Advocate (which had modest amounts of information on the short story and the "talk" about turning it into a movie for years--much like "The Front Runner" which was first published in the 1970s and has never gone beyond the "talk" stage). What about The Punisher? Loads of interest from comics fans but "I doubt the vast majority of [regular film-goers] ever heard of" the comic book.

Point 5: "You could probably say the same thing about IRON MAN - but whatever its other virtues IRON MAN had two highly marketable elements in star Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau, and if you watch the IM advertising, it focused very heavily on Downey and the character of Tony Stark."

Speaking solely on my own behalf, I'd have said the second marketable element would have been either Jeff Bridges or Gwyneth Paltrow before Jon Favreau. As an actor, I couldn't pick him out of a line-up. (In fact, until I checked his credits on IMDb.com, I didn't even connect him with being Monica's super-rich "ultimate fighting champion" wannabe on 6 episodes of FRIENDS.) As a director, other than IRON MAN, I've never seen his work (and the ONLY other title of his I even recognized by name was ELF). Just because you know Favreau's name and consider it "marketable" doesn't mean that "the vast majority of Americans" do. I'd also note that far more of the advertising that I saw focused heavily on IRON MAN or Tony Stark in some Iron Man testing bit. (I only recall Downey being advertised as Tony Stark when he's showing off the missiles in front of the big brass. Every other scene in ads have shown Iron Man or, as I noted, Stark doing some type of testing his Iron Man hardware.)

Point 6: "Conversely, SPEED RACER's leads, Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci, are relative unknowns and the promotion pretty much ignored them as characters anyway, presenting the impression that SR was basically one big cartoon of a film, and not an especially good one. No conflict, no star power, just a guy driving a car. It was a film without an apparent hook. "

Well, if Emile Hirsch hadn't been gypped of a rightly-deserved Oscar nomination (and win) for INTO THE WILD, the "relative unknown" factor might have been negated. As to Christina Ricci being a "relative unknown"? Huh? Wednesday Addams from both ADDAMS FAMILY films is a "relative unknown"? Katrina van Tassel from SLEEPY HOLLOW is a "relative unknown"? Being chained up by Samuel L Jackson in BLACK SNAKE MOAN (a pretty controversial release last year) is being a "relative unknown"? Christina Ricci's credit sheet is far lengthier (and more diverse) than Favreau's but she's a "relative unknown". Yeah. As for the film being "one big cartoon of a film", why is that bad? "Just a guy driving a car." "A film without an apparent hook." Couldn't we say pretty much the same about THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT? Why should SPEED RACER be more widely disparaged than that film (or the series' first two films for that matter)? Can you name the stars of FAST AND FURIOUS 3 without checking for them? I certainly can't but the fact for that was that the cast wasn't as important as the driving sequences (and I certainly don't see why anyone would spend $7-10 or more to watch a bunch of cars driving at high speeds and making hairpin turns just for the "sliding" action the cars do; then again, I don't see the appeal of watching any sort of auto racing). As to that "just a guy driving a car", why can't that be the "hook"? After all, when those diehard fans of the original cartoon first tuned in, what the heck were they tuning in to see? Two guys sitting around discussing Proust for twenty minutes with a two minute car chase thrown in? I'd have to say they first tuned in to watch "a guy driving a car".

Point 7: "The studio didn't even much promote it as a Wachowski Brothers film. It was like they believed SPEED RACER was a magic revenue-generating phrase, but no one should have been remotely surprised when that turned out not to be the case."

Well, one might suggest that they didn't want to prejudice viewers; while both the MATRIX films and V FOR VENDETTA, by the Wachowskis, were R-rated films, SPEED RACER was PG (incidentally, how many other Wachowski Bros films were not R-rated?). I don't know if you remember or not, but when Alfonso Cuarón was tapped to direct HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, there was a fair amount of concern, based on Y Tu Mamá También's content, that AZKABAN might get an R-rating. I certainly don't recall any A JON FAVREAU PRODUCTION being touted for IRON MAN. As I also noted earlier, not even the studio expected any kind of super box office performance.

Incidentally, what happens next year if Frank Miller's THE SPIRIT opens with only $20 million or so given the success of "his" SIN CITY and 300? Will that be a "failure" or will it be just "that the vast majority of Americans have never heard of it so why did Frank risk his name to have the film made"? Based SOLELY on the teaser that I saw before Iron Man, I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I'm also not really impressed by the new Hulk creature; people dissed the Ang Lee CGI Hulk for looking too much like a clay figure, but the new one looks like someone just scanned in some comic artist's renderings and animated those (the shadow-lines that "give" the Hulk his definition and "reality" unfortunately render the character less realistic-looking than those he's fighting).

Still looking forward to "The Safest Place" -- that is, if Image can get its crap together and actually release stuff at the time it's being solicited for release (it WAS solicited for release on May 14 -- this week). Here's hoping you don't get the "American Flagg" treatment. I still recall how patronizing one of the Image PR lackeys was back in October or November of 2006 when Image announced (through Newsarama) that the AmFlagg collection would be released "soon" and would be shipped to comics shops based on the orders they'd placed in 2004, offering a credit and/or returns after the book shipped. The lackey said essentially that Image wouldn't resolicit just in case the book was ready for Christmas and there wouldn't be enough time to resolicit in that case. Of course, Christmas came and went and nothing. Now, four years after the original solicitation, Image finally cancelled the original solicits and resolicited the book (for supposed release in this July). And, then, of course, there's McFarlane's supposed SPAWN/BATMAN sequel which was solicited in October 2006 and there's been no real hard update on its progress beyond the 'Todd's working on it'."

I haven't been paying attention to what either the right wing or progressive commentators have been saying about Hillary. It's all I can do to keep up with what Hillary's people are saying, and whatever conclusions I've drawn have been drawn pretty much from them exclusively. If others are reaching the same conclusions, it's not a common experience for me but it can't be helped. As for the sexism/racism thing, I don't ignore it but while I have heard Hillary backers more than once suggesting Obama can't win over white voters because he's black (not that they couch it in those terms exactly, as I mentioned last week) I don't recall Obama or his backers putting a lot of effort into suggesting Hillary's unelectable because she's a woman. I don't think anyone believes that, since, if the issue is purely gender, last I heard the electorate in this country is more than 50% female now. But I do know not all women would vote for Hillary, just as I'm pretty sure not all blacks would vote for Obama, and not all white males would vote for McCain.

As for SPEED RACER, IRON MAN dropping 50% still put its earnings for the weekend well above expectations, but I'm betting nobody expected a film that cost well over $100,000,000 to make to pull in barely over $18 million on opening weekend. No matter how you slice it, that's a bomb. But you seem to be mistaking my critique of the film's marketing for a criticism of the film. Why is "a guy driving a car" good enough for TOKYO DRIFT and not for SPEED RACER? Because the trailer for TOKYO DRIFT created a sense of tension, conflict and excitement, and the SPEED RACER trailer (I'm talking about the TV ads, since I didn't see a trailer for either in the theater) was just a guy driving a car. Big deal; I can do that. (By the way, regarding Hirsch's nomination and win for INTO THE WILD, I think the Academy got it exactly right.) I agree that manga and anime have a near-incestuous relationship, but neither has any special relationship with live action film, though they do date now and then.

While I can't speak to Image's resolicitation policies, it's my understanding that the problems with the AMERICAN FLAGG! collection weren't within their or Howard Chaykin's control, and it took a long time to get them straightened out. If anyone's got any contradicting information, let me know.

"As a former writer on the show, I want to clarify one fact in your latest column. OCTOBER outperformed every show ever programmed in the post-GREY'S ANATOMY Thursday at 10:00pm timeslot until LOST found its current home. It wasn't until ABC moved the show to Monday (with virtually no fanfare or mention made) that the numbers started to dwindle. The guys have great ideas and immense enthusiasm for LIFE ON MARS (as well as huge respect for the original) and I'm willing to bet you'll enjoy what your see this fall. Give it a shot."

That's network programmers for you; how badly did LOST need that timeslot anyway? ABC pretty much could've stuck it anywhere. (Though wasn't that Jonny Lee Miller show on in between?) So sorry to hear about OCTOBER ROAD's fate; you'd think they'd have moved it around a little before dispatching it. Though I wasn't a big fan of the Brit version, I figured on giving the new LIFE ON MARS a try, though I'll probably wait for the second, non-Kelley episode, which I gather will more accurately suggest the real style of the show under the new showrunners. Hopefully ABC, which has sometimes been a little quick on the trigger, will leave it on the air that long.

"Thanks to Indiana Public Law 109-2005 residents can get a free state ID from the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles for the purpose of exercising their right to vote. All you need to bring is one "primary document" (birth certificate being the most obvious example) and one "secondary document" (a generous variety including but not limited to a valid credit card, a school transcript or report card, a marriage license or divorce decree, a W-2 tax form, a valid insurance card, a paycheck stub, a gun permit, etc. -- even a prison release document qualifies!). For shut-ins over age 65 who hide from society and leave virtually no paper trail in their wake, the guidelines are even more lax.

Additional details are available online.

I remain unconvinced that voter-committed fraud has been a rampant enough problem to warrant a fussy new law, but it's far from Draconian."

Good to know. Thanks.

Notes from under the floorboards:

Seems the TWO GUNS trade paperback from Boom Studios is indeed out, so now you've got no excuse. Get it. Marvel's hardcover of THE PUNISHER: CIRCLE OF BLOOD, the me-Mike Zeck miniseries that launched a thousand ships, is also out at the moment. No monthlies, though. I should probably try to get a couple of those going.

If anyone out there has scans of PSYCHOBLAST, my short-lived First Comics superhero comic of the '80s, please get in touch so I can scam copies off you. I don't need the whole thing. Thanks.

I spy with my little eye:

Got an email the other day informing me that in a minor June 3rd election, California has one of their infamous propositions on the ballot. I still remember the tax one that destroyed their education system. This one is Prop 98, which has the apparently beneficial effect of protecting property rights and limiting the government's power of eminent domain, which allows the government to basically confiscate land (for a price) if their proposed land use is deemed in the public interest. The downside of this particular proposition is that it also wipes out rent control, meaning a lot of people, among them a large number of the poorest people in the state, are likely to end up paying a hell of a lot more to have a roof over their heads, if they end up being able to afford it at all. That may not be much of an argument for many Californians, since I seem to recall California pretty much gave up taking the poor into account a long time ago, but at minimum it'll make landlords substantially richer and tenants substantially poorer, and I suspect it'll render a lot of the now relatively comfortable middle class a lot less comfortable. Eliminating eminent domain sounds good on paper but is a pretty dumb idea anyway, since there is such a thing as the public interest. Probably a better idea to limit application of eminent domain by arriving at a consensus of what constitutes "the public interest." But that would take political dialogue. At any rate, the email suggests you show up at the polls and vote against Prop 98, if for no other reason than the prop's backers are banking that you won't. I would if I still lived there.

Time-Warner (DC's parent company, not that DC has any culpability in this matter, because they certainly don't dictate Time-Warner's behavior) seems to have conned the Postal Regulatory Committee into screwing around with postal rates to make independent magazine publishing far more difficult.

Parties in the Israeli goverment are encouraging the belief that the Ghost plans to attack Iran before his administration, ah, gives up the ghost next January. Well, Israel would probably have better information on the subject than we would. Traditionally presidents don't exit office by starting wars their successors have to deal with, but I suppose if attacking Iran is considered a must by our power brokers, that's likely the only way it's going to happen. By the way, ain't it funny that 2013, which John McCain cites as how long it'll probably take to achieve lasting results in Iraq, happens to be just after his re-election campaign should he end up as president this time around. What a coinkydink. Good little video on Mr. Straight Talk here, by the way, in his own words.

Speaking of Iran, seems they've busted a "terror network" operating within their borders, supposedly run by the CIA. Hmmm... by our rules, doesn't this mean Iran gets to invade Hawaii? Or Guam, at least.

Seems Iceland is the most peaceful place on earth. The USA is #97. At least we still beat out Iran, though not Cuba.

Comforting to know England, if generally more peaceful, is always willing to keep abreast of the USA in general craziness, though. Scotland Yard has now apparently deemed calling a cult a cult "abusive and insulting," not to mention criminal. Meanwhile, the Home Office is considering a new database storehousing every phone call and email sent in the United Kingdom. But let's not forget that since the Thatcher era the UK has been a testing ground for repressive measures later instituted here, and similar measures have already been bandied about here by congressmen who don't seem to think the NSA's informal storehouse storehouse of such American information is quite official enough.

Jeez, if it isn't Florida it's Texas. Texas cops decided to deal with a kid having a seizure by zapping him with tasers over and over, ignoring revelations about his condition. Do Texans try to put out forest fires with oil, too? Is that why we don't have enough?

Napster finally put their new music store online, dumping their previous RIAA-provoked "digital rights management" copy protection-riddled model for state of the art DRM-free tracks. Reportedly some six million of them. Considering how most of the audience hates DRM, this kind of puts pressure on all other services, record company connected or not, to follow suit just to compete. (Anyone know if Napster uses the standard 99 cents per track plan or the more enlightened eMusic model?) At this point that pretty much leaves Microsoft and NBC/Universal as DRM advocates, and considering how much DRM support has slipped even within the music industry over the past couple years, it's obvious even they don't have the muscle they thought they did. How long before Microsoft makes their WMA format DRM-free out of sheer self-defense? (Too bad all those consumers who bought into DRM will have to rebuild their digital music collections from scratch when the DRM lights go out. But don't feel bad: honesty is its own reward, right?)

Amazon's getting sued for trying to use it's marketing muscle to cut out other print-on-demand providers. Should get interesting...

ABC apparently thinks the digital future is in digital video recorders that don't let the viewer fast forward past commercials. Yeah, those'll sell like hotcakes...

Todd Haynes' I'M NOT THERE is a great example of why I've come to loathe most independent film. No, it's not because I'm a hick from the sticks who doesn't appreciate art (man, there was a day when I was first in line for any independent art film that came down the pike) or that I've gotten older, it's that independent film now mostly sucks. Not that I'M NOT THERE doesn't have a few things going for it: most of the performances are very good (though I'm willing to go against the apparent critical group mind and say that while Cate Blanchett's BLONDE ON BLONDE era Dylan stand-in starts off well it quickly starts to sound like her source material isn't Dylan but the National Lampoon's audio parodies of him), and the structure is at least original, unlike most of the Hollywood audition tapes that pass for Sundance films these days. Haynes' direction is everything it needs to be. And it's not that I don't understand the film. I get the central conceit, separating the public personae of Bob Dylan into distinct pseudonymous characters -- Christian Bale as the folksinger Dylan, Marcus Carl Franklin as the pre-fame ramblin' Dylan, Heath Ledger as the international media star Dylan, etc. - and through them exploring the myth of Dylan by converting it into mythology. But ultimately it feels less like Haynes has any point in mind and more like he just didn't want to pay for the rights to Dylan's biography. By halfway through, most of the storylines have veered off into stock stories that have virtually nothing to do with Dylan or anything else, as if Haynes ran out of things to say about the Dylan myth and started substituting whatever came to mind at the time. Oddly, this morning on the radio I heard someone admonish listeners to "support independent film!" I'd love to, but I need a better reason than just that.

I think this week I'll read all those books and comics that have been piling up. That sounds like a plan...

No winner in last week's Comics Cover Challenge, which I hope means everyone was preoccupied with other things, because that one was easy. Here's what was in the logos: up, down, right, left, front, back, and 3D. The answer was 3D.

For those who came in late, almost every week I run a Comics Cover Challenge: the covers of seven seemingly unrelated comics (thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the covers) from throughout comics history are spread, usually not in any particular order, down the column. But a secret theme -- it could be a word, a design element, an artist... anything, really - binds them together, and the first one to e-mail me with the correct solution can promote the website of their choice, subject to my approval. IMPORTANT NEW RULE: PLEASE INCLUDE WITH YOUR GUESS THE WEBSITE YOU'D LIKE TO PROMOTE IF YOU WIN. (You never know; I might just go on a mass linking spree one of these days, if I can ever find the Internet's answer to a water tower.) As in most weeks, I've hidden a special secret clue to the answer somewhere in the column, but it's no big deal. Good luck.

Available in pdf e-book form at Paper Movies and The Paper Movies Store:

TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my "Master Of The Obvious" columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.

IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS VOL 1. Collecting my political commentary of the early terror years, from Sept. 2001 through April 2005, revealing the terror behind the War On Terror.

HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.

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.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

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.

The WHISPER NEWSLETTER is now up and running via the Yahoo groups. If you want to subscribe, 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.

TAGS:  secret invasion, crisis on infinite earths, iron man movie, speed racer movie

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