Permanent Damage

Wed, April 1st, 2009 at 5:44pm PDT | Updated: April 2nd, 2009 at 10:05am

Comic Books
Steven Grant, Columnist

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[Note from Steven Grant about April 1, 2009 column: "Now that April Fool's Day is over, let me state in advance that the following "article" is a prank and has absolutely no basis in reality. No Fox executive ever discussed any such thing with me, and no statements ascribed to anyone connected currently or formerly with Fox, or anyone else, were ever made. Enjoy the joke, but, please, in no way take it seriously."]

We live in interesting times.

I haven't bothered talking about this before, because until recently it was all rumor and conjecture. Last summer at San Diego a producer friend invited me to dinner at a noisy little restaurant on 4th St near Horton Plaza, then ambushed me when I showed up. At dinner was also a very high ranking executive from Fox, and what I thought would be a friendly meal turned out to be an intensive business meeting.

Most are likely unaware of it, but for the past couple years I've been picking up spare change as a consultant to a several Hollywood producers. Bear in mind that "producer" is a lot less impressive than it sounds; anyone can call themselves a producer and claim to be putting deals together without ever getting a film made, and producer credits aren't all that hard to come by in any case – there are people with producer credits who never spent a minute on a set or in a production meeting – but for most producing is a lot of work and nowhere near as much money as most people think, and whatever satisfaction you get from the work in many cases you have to steal. What keeps most producers going is not only the chance of getting a good movie made (and most producers do want to make good movies though as I've said before the way Hollywood works it's not so much a miracle a good movie gets made as that any movie gets made) but they'll be able to work their way into the upper echelon of producers with clout and high incomes. But what most lower echelon producers do is find properties to base movies on, secure those properties, then either begin to package that material (get a screenwriter and a script, interest an actor, interest a director, or some combination thereof) and sell the project to a studio or hook up with a higher echelon producer or production company so they can sell it to a studio. The problem with the latter is that if the film's a hit they get the juice from it; you can put together a #1 film every step of the way and still find yourself unknown to the studio that made hundreds of millions off the thing.

But if you don't find properties you can't even begin to climb the ladder.

As noted before, comics – you don't even have to imagine visuals for them, the visuals are right! there! - have turned into a whole new wellspring for Hollywood, once ROAD TO PERDITION and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT woke the powers in the business to the fact that "comics" doesn't mean just "superheroes." Now "comics" means 90 years and thousands of properties worth of largely untapped material in every genre imaginable. Problem is it takes encyclopedic knowledge to have any idea of what's out there.

That's where I come in. A producer calls and says, "Hey, Paramount's looking for a flying saucer project, any ideas?" and I can say, "there's Fawcett's VIC TORRY & HIS FLYING SAUCER back in 1950, or FATMAN, THE HUMAN FLYING SAUCER, and Bluewater current publishes FLYING SAUCERS VS THE EARTH." They say thanks then call up Meltdown Comics or House Of Secrets to score some copies, and if a film emerges I get a small cut of their take as a finder's fee. It's not big money but it doesn't take much time and pays the mortgage once in awhile.

All by way of roundabout explanation that comics are now increasingly important to Hollywood, and I seem to have a small place in the process now.

When I found myself sitting with a producer and studio exec during Comic-Con, I imagined they wanted rights to one of my projects, especially since the Boom!/Universal TWO GUNS deal had just been announced. (If you own several properties, there's no better way to get everyone in Hollywood interested in all of them than to have someone in Hollywood buy one of them.) No such luck. Instead they wanted to pick my consultant's brain.

About what changes I'd make in DC Comics if I ran the company, and how much I thought it would take to buy it.

When you're brought in as a consultant, the first thing you want to do is ask questions. Get a handle on the parameters. (Recommendations that are constantly beyond the client's means are a good way to stop getting consulting work.) The first things I asked were: are they offering me run of DC Comics? Is DC Comics even for sale?

The answers: no, and, after considerable wheedling and maneuvering ('cause one thing you can say about studio guys is they hate to show their cards), no, not as far as they knew. And while I love a good speculative chat as much as anyone, what I really wanted to know was: why were we having that conversation?

Eventually I got that too: Rupert Murdoch. For those who don't know Murdoch is the Aussie-born billionaire media mogul whose News Corp is the parent company for Fox TV, Fox News and 20th Century Fox Pictures. In 2007, he kicked up a stink by buying Dow Jones and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. In 2008, the legendarily arch-conservative Murdoch stunned the world by agreeing with his NEW YORK POST's endorsement of Barach Obama for president. Seems that in 2007-8, Murdoch was also looking at his portfolio, already seeing that newspapers were in deep trouble (it didn't really take a genius even then, did it?) and figuring out what he wanted to add to his already sprawling media empire.

His conclusion? Of all things, comics.

I pointed out Murdoch already had a comics company: Fox Atomic. Turned out while Fox was happy enough with Fox Atomic, what Murdoch really wanted was a company a backlog of existing properties for quick exploitation, since he envisions a big synergistic meeting of comics, film, TV, games and the Internet, all feeding on each other. Last spring Murdoch's people quietly sniffed around Marvel, whose owners, believing they're verging on their own movie-driven media empire with its own studio and a game plan already mapped out for several years, weren't interested.

Now they were interested in DC. Since the Fox exec I was dining with was a longtime comics fan, they'd put him in charge of exploring their options and options in the event DC couldn't be bought, hence the dinner.

I don't know whether he approached anyone at DC during San Diego last year, but my gut feeling was it'd never happen. Warner Communications might have no special interest in DC as a company, but certainly DC's licenses were worth a lot of money to them, THE DARK KNIGHT had just made a huge splash at the box office, and Warner Studios was already talking about a whole new slate of DC-inspired projects. I just didn't see them selling. Beyond that, I didn't see any other comics company having anything that fit Murdoch's criteria. In regard to comics, unless he wanted to start a new company (and I was ready to help with that, even for Rupert Murdoch) he was out of luck. End of story.

Apparently people don't tell Rupert Murdoch he's out of luck.

A couple weeks ago I get a call from the same Fox exec. Who's no longer an exec at 20th Century Fox. Seems he left recently, with a salary buyout that runs through the end of the year, for a new position with a new Murdoch company:

Publisher of DC Comics.

After I got up off the floor, he spun an interesting little story. Seems Warner Communications was not interested in selling DC. Then a few things happened. Like last October's stock market crash and credit collapse, making things financially very tough for Warners. Which has since been looking all through their vast empire for sections to sell off for cash. (I'm told they offered Fox Cartoon Network, but Fox wasn't interested.) Though recent DC sales downturns caused WarnerCom (you have to differentiate between the parent company and the Warner Pictures wing, under whose umbrella DC currently resides) to take another look at it, DC was still considered untouchable, because of all the licensing money.

Then THE SPIRIT hit theaters, and tanked. Then, of all things, Fox sued over the much-anticipated cash cow, WATCHMEN. Meanwhile, still stung by the anti-reception of SUPERMAN RETURNS a couple years back, Warner Studios effectively decided their potentially biggest property was unexploitable. Word is Warner Communications, which dumped most of the rest of their publishing a couple years back, started wondering if DC wasn't more trouble than it was worth, remembered Murdoch's interest, and got back in touch with him. Talks quietly began, things stalled a little, the WATCHMEN tiff got sorted out but that was down the chain from either party on both sides of this discussion.

Then WATCHMEN hit screens, and while it didn't bomb it quickly was perceived as not the expected feather in Warner's bank account at all. Murdoch came back with a couple provisions that pleased WarnerComm no end – they'd continue to get all revenues from existing licensing deals through the existing term of those licenses (automatic renewals notwithstanding), and a cut of any new license deals Fox cuts for the next ten years, for all existing characters at the time of the handover. In return for shaving the purchase price. Interestingly, the film/TV rights to Batman and Vertigo Comics (spinning off into its own company) will remain with Warners Studios (Vertigo's been fairly successful as an idea factory for Warners) though Vertigo will continue to be published and distributed through DC Comics. In effect, I'm told, the deal's as good as done and in the hands of the lawyers now, but they hope to get everything finalized by early July for a big announcement at this year's Comic-Con International.

All this has left me a bit breathless. I've heard "DC for sale" rumors since I entered the business in '78; Marvel used to regularly hold the prospect over creators wondering if the grass was greener "over there." It never occurred to me it might be sold when there was no apparent reason to sell. But aside from the obvious, it may trigger other big changes for the industry, not the least of which is possibly a new distribution system connected to Murdoch's newspaper/magazine empire, since Murdoch reportedly holds the whole direct market suspect. (Trying to maneuver DC into a higher profile would explain some of Diamond's recent moves, if they're trying to hold onto DC's business. Comics shops would still be able to get DC product in any case, but a prime Murdoch concern is drastically expanding their availability and profile, however that's ultimately achieved.)

I wasn't offered a job, by the way. (At least not yet, but I'm not likely accept in any case, unless it's just so much money I can't refuse, but that'd take an awful lot of money. I'm just not an office kind of guy.) He asked if I could recommend anyone for editor-in-chief. (I was going to tell him they don't have an editor-in-chief at DC, but for all I know by next January they will have.) I sicced him on "former BATMAN editor" (he liked that) Bob Schreck. Bob'd make a terrific editor-in-chief.

The most interesting thing about this whole thing so far is that nobody at DC seems to know what's going on. I asked a DC editor last Friday how he thought he'll like living in Los Angeles, and he laughed off old rumors that Warner Studios would move the whole company out to Warner's Burbank lot. And corrected me when I mentioned Fox. Rich Johnston hasn't even picked up on it. I have to think Paul Levitz must know about it, but if he does he's keeping it close to his vest. But every time his contract comes up lately, he threatens retirement so he probably won't take having it thrust upon him too hard, especially with the severance package he'll almost certainly receive. So I called my ex-Fox exec to ask how much of this is known and how much I could talk about, since he'd never said I couldn't or shouldn't. He yelled at me a little about how much this should be kept strictly on the q.t. Then he said what might be the dumbest thing he has ever said in his life: "Unless you want to write it up for next Wednesday's column, so everyone dismisses it as an April's Fool's joke."

So what you have to ask yourself is: is this for real, or is it an April Fool's prank? And why is Bob Schreck suddenly on the West Coast?

The rest of you will find out for sure in San Diego. Looks like 2010'll be big fun.

A fistful of letters:

"Interesting explanation of meme = '... some idiot notion repeated often enough that it's commonly supposed to be true, or important, or vital, because people keep saying it.' That, to me, is the definition of "factoid" = a known "fact" that people believe that just isn't true.  Such as, George Washington did had wooden teeth, when he did not.  But on news programs I hear commentators refer to factoids as juicy little facts - "Now here's an interesting little factoid", they'll say - except factoids are really falsehoods. 

Oh, well.  It's up to us to rescue the English language, I guess.  And don't get me started on 'forte' (fort, not for-tay).  That's a lost cause, along with 'decimate.'"

Hey, I'd be happy if people would just get it through their heads that "affect" and "effect" are neither synonymous nor interchangeable. But there are two differences between memes and factoids: in one sense "factoid" is an old media term equivalent to a new media "meme," and a factoid generally refers to concrete information, like George's wooden teeth (in fact, they were tempered steel sharpened to points and he would gleefully rip his opponents' throats out with them, which is why no one voted against him when he ran for President), while a meme generally refers to more metaphysical things like ideas, with the vague suggestion that they arise with widespread independent spontaneity, presumably as an evolutionary response to information, and this lends them special weight, significance and influence on reality.

"Strictly artistically speaking: do you really think it's even possible, in this day, age, and given today's writing trends, to come up with self contained, great and groundbreaking (your words) stories - in 8 pages? Within the constraints of a Superhero book/universe? Regularly? Because that's how I'd define a backup strip: self-contained. I can get that some good stories will have maybe been told like that at some point (though I can't remember ever being truly excited by a backup), but that was probably in a period when seriously condensed storytelling was the norm anyway. Today it'd just seem inconsequential, probably.

 

The only places I even see this sort of thing today is anthologies (and even that for the most part is serialized material - see Marvel's latest book with online content, whatever it's called); and even across the fence, in indieland, if I'm honest about unserialized releases like Liberty Comics or the SPX books - I'll have to admit that (other than feeling I did something positive by buying the books) the contents are mostly - if taken as self-standing stories - unsatisfying (I'm not talking about 4-8 panels / 1-page Mahfood-style strips here, but about a superhero comic in 8 pages, remember). I think that today this format is used as either a preview of some sort (which I shouldn't, under any circumstances, ever have to pay anything for), an original prologue for a story or book, or (at best) a 'moment in life' vignette about some circumstantial character related to the book I'm reading; so frankly, I can't see that it sweetens the pot as much as... I dunno... adds a cracker to munch on alongside it?

 

If indeed the price-hike is inevitable - I'd much rather have the Marvel way of raising a few top-sellers significantly to keep the rest of the line afloat, than the backup-strip way of a corporation trying to tell me it 'feels my pain' even as it inflicts more of it. Of course, I'd really rather they simply raised everything to $3.50 across the line or have the print divisions subsidized by the movie/merchandise divisions at $2 a pop... but that's not how it works (though there's a very good and viable case, I feel, to be made for the latter at least)."

There's nothing that says backups have to involve superheroes, but, sure, I don't see any reason backups couldn't be great, groundbreaking and even self-contained, except that cultural stupidity and inertia mitigates against it, given the soap opera storytelling that's inflicted on everything these days. But I don't have a doubt in the world that given a free hand, say, Alan Moore or Warren Ellis could concoct very innovative, compelling eight page stories. Or any number of other writers. Will Eisner and his crew used to tell terrific stories in 8 pages. All it takes is a willingness to create and publish such things, and a willingness to publish them.

"Thanks for your thoughts on the BSG finale.  I saw a lot of the holes that you did, and I’ve been trying to synthesize them into something meaningful ever since. I think the conception of god and destiny in BSG has to be clarified.  Is god responsible for a cycle of death of rebirth and all the machinations that are part of it?  Or is god the universe personified whose agents are the Head Six, Head Baltar, Starbuck, and whoever else?  Those characters’ actions throughout the series have been too varied to be called either good or bad.  Since they are the agents of god (“angels”), maybe we can suppose that god itself is neither good nor bad.  This is good news because we’ve moved beyond a paternal theology and/or (and I’m making the case for “and”) granted some autonomy to the actual people in the universe. Head Six, Head Baltar, and Starbuck are parts of “God” that maintain/preserve/restart the world by influencing the people around them.  In Starbuck’s case, she’s unsure of her role until it is totally clear.  She’s literally the damn reboot button.  She’s the agent of the universe/god that can only act at the moment of Eschaton/Ragnarok/Tribulation/whatever.  Yes, they are manipulative and callous, but the only goal we can see in them is to get the characters of the story where they need to be.  This is a pretty clever move on Ron Moore’s part, because these characters really are just plot devices, but he has weaved them into a cogent cosmology.  Hopefully! 

As for the giving up technology thing, I see it as two-fold.  One, it makes sense to me from the character’s perspectives that they want to reconnect to nature after living in cold spaceships for 4 years and seeing all the hell that their cravenness (of which technology was a symptom) has wrought.  From the cosmological perspective, they are starting over from the beginning.  Kara has successfully hit the reset button. At this point, I’m going to say that I am deeply troubled by the same anglocentric meme you are.  I had been suspecting for a long time that the pilgrims of humanity would end up becoming Earth’s population, but I was worried that it would have been a seeding thing instead of crossbreeding.  At least this way we don’t have to disbelieve evolution! 

Bob Dylan is the hard part.  Since we’ve established that the characters live in a self-perpetuating universe, we can also identify some repetitions inside of those iterations.  Head Six and Head Baltar are around in the coda 150,000 years.  So does “Watchtower”.  In the same way that Kara Thrace (or her father) plucked that melody out of their imaginations (or the Jungian collective unconscious), Bob Dylan had done the same when he wrote that song.  Those notes and words always existed, but it took some kind of supernatural inspiration to assemble them.  To be tidy, let’s call that God. Remember that Starbuck’s “Watchtower” is different than Dylan’s.  So is Caprican English.  Frak?  We see the same themes introduced in universes past, but they have been elaborated and corrupted and permuted through the cycles.  Again, this bugs me.  English is a mutt language, as you said, and the implication that the universe cares that it continues seems self-aggrandizing. 

It’s hard to wrap this all up, but I’ll try.  I think we’ve seen a story about the end of days and how the universe might try to repair itself.  God may not be the architect of history, as comforting as that idea is to some in the story, but “he” does have some stake in his universe.  He/It has provided some structures that allow people another chance NOT to frak it up like they however many times before. What a mess, right?  It’s got this weird combination of agnostic deism, speculative cosmology, and sheer craziness.  I find it kind of appealing, and I’m not struggling to reconcile it anymore."

I doubt we're really supposed to think that the English the characters speak throughout is English; the conceit in these things is usually that it's auto-translation for our benefit. Fine. That still doesn't explain everyone quoting lyrics from a Dylan song. Including Starbuck. That may seem like a picayune detail, but it's the loose thread that unravels mighty tapestries... As for evolution, the "crossbreed" scenario only works for those who don't quite understand evolution or genetic mapping...

"I shared many of your opinions about the BSG finale.  All the things I didn't like, however, I felt were at least made tolerable by the endings given to the main characters; I thought they did them all justice, even Baltar and even given the less than appealing story ending.  I disagree with you about the some of the God fantasy stuff, though, maybe just because I really don't want there to be a strong God presence, but y'know.  While there is obviously a "higher power," I read it more as sort of a failsafe for humanity.  There was never a plan for everything that happened, just a plan in case it all goes to hell (which it did again and again).  I mean, sure some of the spiritual events can't be explained away, but I think it works well. Similar ordeals had happened enough times in the past that the survivors evolved into something that would continue to let them be survivors.  Humanity is shown to have become such an advanced organism that it has that sort of thing programmed into its DNA.  Somewhat along the lines of what Morrison did in THE INVISIBLES.  The Cylons, being more direct descendants of humanity, perhaps are more aware of this evolution, even if they don't understand it completely (i.e. making it God).

All in all though, I was disappointed.  The evil Cylons were beaten way to easily, even though the battle got off to a great start.  Cavel, no matter how much of a coward he was, would never eat his own gun (I think he should've taken out Chief after he strangled Tori, but again, y'know...).  Even though my friends and I always assumed the human characters were either supposed to be us in the past or future, I was still dismayed that they found Earth and bred with the natives, it just seemed too cheesy SF for the BSG writers to stoop to.  I also was a little confused by everyone so easily abandoning all traces of science, especially Doc Cottle.  I did, however, like the good Cylon toasters fighting alongside the heroes and maybe my imagination is a little too active, but I like to think that they evolved into the gray aliens that've come back to mess with us.  After all, as you pointed out with the Mad Thinker, no matter how advanced humanity is, there's that .01% chance that'll mess it up."

I honestly don't mind them doing a story where God controls all events – not everything has to reflect my viewpoint – I'm just irritated they spent five years telling me BG was hard science fiction when it was ultimately Luddite mysticism. But your theory that there was no real plan doesn't hold water, since it's well established that events are all part of a skein going back at least to the destruction of the 13th Colony, and statistically their discovery of (New) Earth, containing a species genetically similar enough to allow cross-breeding, is mathematically impossible to chalk up to random chance.

"I feel your pain, but at least BATTLESTAR GALACTICA 1980 still holds first place for earth disappointment. The '80 version had doctor Zee leading the colonials to modern day earth with super kids who could jump extra high-(interesting to note one episode of that ill fated series had the first humanoid Cylon). The Liefeld incarnation, which wasn't too bad, had the Galacticans coming to a promordial earth inhabitated by Adam and Eve. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: SECOND COMING has the Galactica still looking for earth 30 years later. At this point I finished "Revelations" from season 4, which was outstanding, so I do agree with you, a lot of the premise for the finale sounds a little silly. But ultimately, Galactica's mythology is based on religious themes. The reimagined version finally leans on the original premise incarnated by Glen Larsen.  The Quorum of Twelve comes from the twelve apostles in the LDS faith, of which Larsen is a member. A lot of unseen help in finding their home comes from an unseen power. In hindsight so much of our action is based on faith because we believe we can act and see results and at some point may need help from someone besides ourselves, a trusted friend, a relative and yes. an unseen power. "War of the Gods" from the original, touched upon this in a way the reimagined version doesn't really emulate well.  They never did touch the Eastern Alliance, the Neo-Nazi empire from the original show which would have brought something new to this version. And there are other things, but as a whole it's still some of the best TV around."

If we skip the last hour, I'd agree. I know all about the Mormon allegory of the original version, but we have to bear in mind that was pulp idiocy by idiots for idiots. (I'm not suggesting Mormonism makes you an idiot, I'm just saying the show was idiotic.) Moore and company had pumped the concept into something pretty complex and original, and to suddenly peel everything away in deference to the turd the new series took off from was unfortunately self-defeating.

"Surveying the San Diego Comic-Con there have been different tactics for selling comics: con men handing out flyers for deals, con-women attempting to entice the overwhelmingly male population. I note the indy aisle with comics like SONAMBULO not attracting a huge crowd. APE might attract new crowds, but I haven't seen that much purchasing at venues like San Diego anyways. Regional cons like APE might have found their due but where are the results without distribution? Your piece seemed to indicate they're doing well. I remember a BUYER'S GUIDE article years back talking about a 1/3 split between retailers, distributors and publishers rather than complete non-return. What are your thoughts about that? Ultimately, these regional cons, book stores and online will probably make the comics shop even more irrelevant. Some indy comics do a co-op for printing, they ought to all get together to form a new distributor. Why would Diamond care since they're not the big fish anyways?"

Competition is competition, and in a market like ours any distributor that gained enough ground to make a success of the indie comics Diamond shrugs off would likely start attracting the attention of clients Diamond would rather not lose. You might as well ask why comics shops would care that conventions sell a lot of comics the shops don't even sell. Because it changes the dynamics of the business and, as you mention, increases a perception that comics shops are losing relevance unless you want to buy WOLVERINE. It's not a message shops want out there, and many shops would argue it's an unfair, inaccurate message. What you're missing, though, is that with the new con sales, the cons themselves are the distribution. Which could end up altering buying habits completely for small titles: it won't be necessary to get an issue out every month or every other month, you just have to get it out in time for your next con appearance, because that's where your customers will be. Or so we can speculate. As for San Diego, the indy ghetto over by the northwest snack bar hasn't traditionally done terribly good business, and, passing through it, it's hard to tell if the palpable smell in the air there is old hot dogs or desperation. But other areas where indy comics get sold, like the paid artists tables in the southeastern area of the con have done increasingly well in the past few years, and who knows? With more readers learning to seek out indie material at cons, things could turn around completely this year.

1000 reviews in 1000 days (days 71-77):

From Villard Books:

SYNCOPATED: AN ANTHOLOGY OF NONFICTION PICTO-ESSAYS Brendan Burford ed. ($16; trade paperback)

I've grown a little intolerant of alt comics, especially auto-bios, over the past few years, mainly because I've found a lot that have come my way lazy, derivative and uninspired, and holding up the "alt comics" label like talisman that transforms all criticism into the red mark of uncoolness. This tends to be especially true of anthologies, but for once here's a really good anthology, despite the pompous subtitle. (Add "picto-essays" to "picto-fiction" and "illustories" on the list of euphemisms doomed to never catch on.) Burford has compiled an excellent selection of pieces that are far more journalism than memoire, on a wealth of subjects from growing hay to the history of the Dvorak keyboard to race murders in Tulsa, the secret origins of psychologist Erik Erikson and his theories, and a shadow-theater presentation of terrorist "interrogations" at Guantanamo. The best piece is Alex Holden's "West Side Improvements," relating the history of the train tracks under Manhattan's Riverside Park and how they became a gallery of street art, which beautifully captures the tone of the Manhattan experience in all its pluses and minuses. Of the sixteen pieces in SYNCOPATED, with work by such talents as Nick Bertozzi, Nate Powell and Josh Neufeld, there is a great variety of styles, considerable emotional content to offset the potentially sterile journalistic tone, and, remarkably, not one bad piece, so kudos to editor Burford, who obviously gave a clear picture of what he was looking for and kept the enterprise on mission. The result is, if not actually a breakthrough for the comics medium, a great argument for the ability of comics to entertain and inform simultaneously. Others may have trod this path before, but few trod it so convincingly.

From Lattice Studios (Tom Vudtiyanon, 1023 E Wabash, Spokane WA 99207):

SOLDIER TALES #1 by Tom Vutayon ($6 inc postage; comic book)

Not quite ready for prime time, but interesting nonetheless. Two stories cover adventures of heroes called "Sunsaints," one in a medieval world (sword but little sorcery) and one in the near future. Beats are very strange; in the medieval story, characters discuss history and poetry and hurl a dizzying barrage of place and personal names at each other, then the action jumps forward in fits leaving us colliding with characters introduced in gaps we never saw. Clunky as that sounds, it works surprisingly well, though much of the dialogue sounds like it's more for our benefit than the characters. And though a little stiff, the art is surprisingly confident. Figurework, while slightly stiff, is especially good, bearing overtones of artists like Reed Crandall, Paul Gulacy and Russ Heath, though, like a lot of starting artists, figures at a distance tend to be less carefully rendered, marring the effect some. Don't know if this is Vutayon's first publication, but if it is it's one of the best debuts I've seen in years. He still needs some practice, polish and experience, but for an unknown this is pretty impressive, particularly the art.

From Image Comics:

AGE OF BRONZE #28 by Eric Shanower ($3.50; comic book)

C'mon, does anyone really not know how great this comic, a faithful, very artful adaptation of THE ILIAD, is? This issue picks up with the Greek and Trojan forces clashing for the first time, and Shanower lovingly captures the chaotic insanity of the battle, while elegantly updating dialogue. Storytelling and art are both phenomenal. If anyone ever asks what comic is a labor of love, AGE OF BRONZE is it – it really has become Shanower's magnum opus, as heady as the original – and if you're not reading it, you should be.

From Fox Atomic:

28 DAYS LATER: THE AFTERMATH by Steve Niles, Dennis Calero, Diego Olmos & Nat Jones ($17.99; trade paperback)

The horror man of the hour, Steve Niles, takes on arguably the best horror film of the last 20 years. 28 DAYS LATER postulated an England destroyed pretty much overnight by a highly infectious fast acting disease transmitted via bodily fluids that drives anyone affected to raving homicidal mania. A neat twist on the standard zombie formula. This book is misnamed; it's a parallel story, not a sequel, beginning with the lab development of the disease – release is unintentional in the film, not so much in this book – and fleshing out what the film left unsaid (with a fun cameo by Walt Simonson as the chief researcher – then covering the period of destruction during which the film's hero lay bedridden and forgotten in a coma. (His waking, 28 days after the outbreak, is where the film begins.) Characters introduced in the first three parts collide in the fourth as their stories dovetail and climax, tying things together nicely. Aided by some very nice artwork, this may be the most measured and effective Niles' writing has been since 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, as he foregoes shock in most places for mood and creepy buildup. This isn't as good as the film, but it's much better than the film's sequel, 28 WEEKS LATER, and a pretty decent variation on the zombie story in it's own right.

From Dynamite Entertainment:

BATTLEFIELDS: DEAR BILLY #3 by Garth Ennis & Peter Snejbjerg ($3.50; comic)

Nice that someone's just letting Ennis write war comics, without gimmicks or costumed heroes, since they're obviously what he has the most affinity for, digging up unusual aspects and surprising conclusions. DEAR BILLY wraps up with a collision between obsession, love and pragmatism that dodges any war movie heroics and instead has its British nurse heroine, exacting revenge on Japanese prisoners in her care in WWII India, realizing what kind of world will come out of the conflict. Snejbjerg's art is several levels better than during his BOOKS OF MAGIC days, carrying both story and emotions perfectly; they're a great team. When Ennis is writing his over the top humor stuff, he's good. When he's being serious, he's great.

From Fantagraphics Books:

BOODY: THE BIZARRE COMICS OF BOODY ROGERS Craig Yoe ed. ($19.99; paperback)

It's not that Fantagraphics never puts out crap, I just don't bother reviewing it anymore. No need, when they keep producing wonderful books like this. Golden Age cartoonist Rogers, most famous for his cosmic ray-charged quasi-superhero Sparky Watts, who dressed like a college professor and rarely did anything heroic but instead constantly found himself in crazy situations, was sort of a cross between Elsie Segar and Basil Wolverton and specialized in truly surreal humor. All but forgotten since the '50s, he has recently resurrected as an Internet darling. This collection of 15 Rogers pieces, mostly stories starring Watts or Rogers' other key character, the Daisy Mae-inspired Babe, is hardly comprehensive, but it's a great introduction to the his wacky milieu, lovingly designed and produced by Craig (ARF) Yoe. Good introduction by Yoe, too, revealing such fun facts as '50s bondage cartoonist Eric Stanton was once Rogers' assistant. Hilarious stuff, even (especially?) when it steers way beyond the bounds of good taste. (You have to wonder, for instance, how the crazed bondage fantasy, "The Mysterious Case Of Mystery Mountain," ever got published.)

From Wildstorm:

TOP 10 SEASON 2 SPECIAL by Zander & Kevin Cannon & Daxiong ($2.99; comic)

I remember when Alan Moore concocted this "superhero HILL ST. BLUES" concept around the conceit that in a world where everyone has superpowers being a superpowered cop puts you on the same level as a cop in our world." A good joke, for awhile. It's a little thin here, though. The real charm of Moore's version was the HILL ST. BLUES style of overlapping storylines and characters drifting in and out that has become a staple of TV shows now and which Moore cleverly applied. The Cannons' story isn't bad and has a couple clever bits, but their choice to focus on a single character – an android defense attorney – and limit the action to a courtroom drama dulls things down a bit. Not helping much is the adequate but uninspired artwork; Gene Ha's cover has more life in one picture than Daxiong provides for the whole book. I'd like to see Moore's ABC franchises continue in some manner, but this isn't the way to achieve it, sorry.

Notes from under the floorboards:

CBR Legal Affairs would like me to make it abundantly clear that the "Fox Buys DC" story is an April Fool's gag and, to the best of my knowledge, Warners has not sold DC, nor is the company up for sale. No one's got a sense of humor anymore...

By the way, got a number of emails lately from people asking why I don't do political commentary anymore. Including some Republicans who think I'm staying silent. Fact is I've just been too busy and too exhausted lately to keep up much on politics, so I haven't much coherent to say about it lately, though, yes, I know, that never stopped me before. But I like at least to foster the illusion of coherence. But soon. I just need a couple days to sleep first.

Sleep is, in fact, where I'm heading to now in lieu of notes for the week. I'll get to the online comics next week, but it isn't every year column publication date is April 1, and when I figured out this year was that year, I couldn't let it slide

Congratulations to Bart Lidofsky, who's been trying for years to solve a Comics Cover Challenge. This week he not only got "boots" but was first! So don't disappoint him; take a look at his recommended site, Toonopedia. Don Markstein's guide to all things comics. Check it out.

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. As in most weeks, I've cleverly planted a secret clue somewhere in the column, so have a groovy time finding it. Good luck.

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.

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