Lying In The Gutters

Mon, May 4th, 2009 at 2:31pm PDT | Updated: May 4th, 2009 at 6:36pm

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOLUME 2 COLUMN 208

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. But I urge you to use your judgment and remember, context is everything.

The traffic lights are an indication (and only that) of how reliable I believe the story to be, based on source, context and gut feel. Red lets you know I think this rumour is bunkum, but it is still one being spread about and could do with stamping on. Amber indicates I think there is a bias involved in the telling here, or it just seems a little dodgy. And Green as far as I can tell (as far as I can ever tell) is the real deal, junior. But it's still quite possibly wrong.

Nevertheless, do remember, Lying In The Gutters is for your entertainment. Neither Fair Nor Balanced. Please don't shoot the messenger.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAZE

[Green Light]So, DC's "Blackest Night" #0 seemed to be the hottest item of the day. Copies snapped up instantly and sold for $10 a piece on eBay it seems. Congrats to DC.

Complaints about the reduced size of the Marvel "Avengers" title didn't stop that book being snapped up second, with "Savage Dragon," "Wolverine," "Aliens," "Star Wars" and "Cars" books whizzing out at speed.

There were wonderful signing occasions with everyone from Mark Waid to William Shatner at their local comic shop signing free comics with their name on them.

One mysterious new store, Dave's Cards Comics and Games announced a Stan Lee signing for Free Comic Book Day but people who attended found not only a cancelled Stan Lee appearance, but a table outside a closed-and-empty store, with people taking e-mail addresses. And no free comics.

In London, Gosh! Comics didn't participate in Free Comic Book Day, instead they had Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill signing pre-release copies of "League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910," 500 copies of which were shipped in, as well as a gallery of O'Neill's art from the series. I wasn't there for the signing, but the queue was round the block two hours before the signing was due to start...

And yes, they are hitting eBay too... Nothing says Free Comic Book Day than inflated signed comics!

THE ADAMS FAMILY

[Green Light]Looking forward to this week's issue of "House Of Mystery" with a short story drawn by Neal Adams? I understand from those close to a very proud father that it was actually drawn by his son Josh Adams. Josh's credit will be "full pencil assist" but it was in fact completely pencilled by Josh with Neal doing inks.

Nice one Josh. That's one way to get a break.

TOY STORY 2

[Yellow Light]Last week, LITG revealed the extent of McFarlane Toys' downsizing as explained to the staff, as well as its current plans to change the way it sculpts toy lines.

So why is this all happening anyway? Well, as a result of last week's article, a number of staff members wanted to comment.

Firstly, most don't see this as related to the economy, with financial problems kicking off in 2007 and citing previous downsizing at the company over the last two years as evidence of that.

Some blame the change in emphasis within the company, with the administrative offices in Arizona increasing their numbers first to match the New Jersey creative office, then overtaking them, becoming top heavy in the process, and removing creative control from New Jersey. A fall in profits seem to correlate with that increase in control.

The New Jersey office is feeling the brunt of the downsizing, reducing from 40 to 13, with much of their work being replaced by experimental digital techniques and being outsourced to China.

The Arizona office also feels the cut, with numbers falling from 70 to 35, but proportionately the group will be more top heavy than before, with a greater percentage of executive staff. While there is a recognized skillbase, some are worried that a number only have experience managing the work without practical knowledge of how it is actually executed.

I've been given criticism of hiring at Arizona, brand managers without degrees and with relevance-challenged experience (one cited only had previous experience at a dog shelter), taking away health insurance unless employees contributed a further $3000 a year, and a form of "perk apartheid" where New Jersey employees lost amenities while Arizona kept them. This division is summed up by an event where the packaging department responsibilities were moved from New Jersey to Arizona. There were severe problems with output, and an insurmountable learning curve, leading to the responsibilities being returned to a reduced-and-freelance-based packaging department in New Jersey.

Previous downsizing was spun to the staff as a one time thing that would not be repeated, and so current staff are demoralized and some have told me they feel deceived. While the Halo line is very profitable for the company, the Guitar Hero line has been incredibly problematic with five lines creates but only two released - to less than stellar results.

But it is worth pointing out that everyone is hurting. Even Todd McFarlane himself has taken a personal salary cut, though from a large figure to start with.

As always with such toy companies, it's all about getting the figures to stand up.

WATCH THE MARGINS

[Green Light]“Watchmen” is currently cheaper to buy on Amazon UK (£8.09) than it is for direct market retailers to buy from Diamond UK (£8.99), That's a 45% discount as opposed to the 40% off cover that UK retailers pay for graphic novels.

Are Amazon just clearing some space? In which case, watch canny dealers buy every single copy that Amazon still has in stock...

LEAD ON MCDUFFIE

[Green Light]Dwayne McDuffie was been talking about and deconstructing his work on "JLA" on the DC Message Boards. It's rare that a creator is so open and honest about the ins and outs of working on such a series. And it's done without malice, accusation or blame, just an acceptance that this is the way things work. It's quite an education. Here are a few highlights.

Yes, Anansi is supposed to be me, and the story arc is about my not having control of the stories in my book. Ironically, both [the Anansi/Vixen] story and the parallel Red Tornado arc were supposed to be smaller B and C plots in a much larger arc (involving Luthor's plan from my first arc, Starro, and Despero) that I wasn't able to do because of other plans in the DCU.

...

(regarding the Injustice League) I'd originally intended for that story to run 8 issues, but it had to be cut short for Suicide Run, so I made up a new secret Luthor plot that tied into the dangling Per Degaton plot from Brad's run, but it turned out that Geoff already had plans to wrap that up, so I've come up with a third Luthor plot, but I'm not sure when I'll get back to it, as I'm fairly tightly plotted for the next couple of years. I will get to it though, promise.

...

Actually, my intention was to keep Red Tornado in the computer for quite a while (both to keep him off stage for a bit, and to set up another storyline I had notions of exploring), but DC needed him back in his body immediately for a mini-series. So, I planned the Amazo rematch as a B-plot in another story, unfortunately, that story had to be dropped because of something else that was planned in another title. So I pushed up the Vixen arc to take that place, but as I was writing it, I found out certain things about Final Crisis that forced me to cut the Vixen Arc short. Things happen. Whether I find a particular character interesting is entirely, and unsurprisingly, a function of what I find interesting, Some characters work better for me in a solo setting than a team setting, for instance, some characters aren't as interesting with this line-up than they would be with a slightly different one. That said, my tendency is to work with the characters I'm less interested in (Red Tornado, Hawkgirl, Red Arrow) more, in order to give them some face time. Batman and Superman don't need a showcase, they're in 6 other books a month, and I've written cool bits for them myself dozens of times, so they'll step to the background, except for a couple of times a year.

...

I did want to use the quite different version of the CSA I made up for the Justice League Unlimited show, but at the time, I wasn't allowed to do any alternate Earths.

...

I still think the multiverse is off-limits to me, along with time travel and a couple more areas that other DCU titles are focusing on. If that changes, I'll definitely pitch a road trip through some of the 52.

...

DC is giving the fans what they want, and that's big event books that have affect the entire line, and promotable events in the main solo titles. When that stuff stops selling better than regular comics, DC will stop doing them. Until and unless, JLA's going to have to adapt to the times. When this version of JLA launched, it was in a continuity bubble that left it free and clear of the continuity in other titles. As soon as it synched back up with the rest of the universe, we had to pay the tab for that freedom.

...

Looking ahead, the line-wide continuity is going to eventually line up for a more traditional JLA, but we're not there yet. At the moment, none of the big seven are available. Beyond that, The Hawks, Green Arrow, both Atoms, Captain Marvel and almost everyone I think of as either a big gun, or a traditional JLA favorite are likewise not available. So as we wait for things to settle down in the other titles, I'm doing "Cap's Kooky Quartet." Of course, in this case Captain America isn't available, either.

...

Final Crisis and other events left me without access to any of the characters that I want on the team. I couldn't just have everyone disappear mid-arc, so I had it happen on camera. Losing the big guns was a problem for me, so I decided to make it a problem for Black Canary. Fortunately, it also let me pull the trigger on the Hal Jordan League, which I've been either writing around, or spinning my wheels to synch up with, since my first issue on the book.

...

there are three current members of the League I wish weren't on it.

...

My plan was for Kendra to break up rather painfully with Roy, in time for that to be the reason Roy left the JLA (to go to the other title he was supposed to be going to back when I planned this). Kendra would have stayed with the team, but been without a romantic partner for a while. Most of the League, friends with Roy since he was a teen, would resent Kendra for staying on when she was the one who hurt their friend. She was going to be pretty much a loner except for her relationship with Wonder Woman (which would eventually be good, although Kendra would misread her for a while, causing friction until Diana helped her through some tough times), and Black Lightning, who would treat her like a surrogate daughter (I'd also planned to have her go to Jeff's for Thanksgiving, and meet the rest of his family). Kendra was going to come out of all this with a new focus, and a slightly adjusted status quo that would keep her front and center in JLA. Roy and Kendra would reconcile in about two years, but never be a couple again, except for one night that they'd both be sorry for, and never mention again.

But continuity changed in other books (i was informed that Kendra would die in Final Crisis), so I had to toss it all. Actually twice, because my back up plan was derailed by Kendra's recent undeath.

...

I've had virtually no input into the composition of JLA. It's DC Comics' flagship book. They tell me who to put on the team, based on their needs elsewhere in the universe, and I do it. I believe I had influence in getting rid of Red Tornado, but even there I was forced to put him back in his body about two years before I had planned to.

...

There are a large number of changes coming up, mostly due to members leaving in the aftermath of Final Crisis. Again, I had little to no influence on how the team is shaking out. Dan and Eddie are allowing me to frequently guest star several characters who by rights should be written out of the book because of what's going on in their titles. They also acquiesced to my request for a member rejoining the team (as soon as another project is done with him in about eight months). That character will be my first addition to the team, roughly two years after taking over the book.

If it were up to me, JLA would be made up of roughly the six most popular DC characters plus a rotating seventh spot that would be used to balance the personalities, create new story opportunities and/or pump up an interesting, but so far less commercially successful character.

...

I was able to eliminate one member by choice (although circumstances seem to have forced him back in), all of the additions were mandated.

...

I do get frustrated, but it comes with the job. The nature of monthly comics has changed drastically over the past 20 years. JLA used to be THE place to go to see the big guns together, dealing with the gravest threats in the DCU. Now there are several big event crossovers a year, and those titles are where the huge stories happen. So I have to tell stories that feed into and come out of those events. I'd prefer if, as on Justice League Unlimited, I could tell stories that were at the center of the characters lives, but that was a very different circumstance. JLA the comic is part of a larger patchwork, and my mandate is to support the bigger story of the DCU.

I think we could do a much better job of making the comic feel more self-contained while still serving the needs of the DCU, and I'm working on ways to do that, but the truth of the matter is, every three or four months, I have to sort of drop everything and deal with a crossover or other event. In my next arc of 6 issues, there are three of these events (four if you count the Milestone guest shot). That makes JLA integral to the DCU, but it also makes us lurch around more than a bit.

Dive in, find more answers... or ask some questions of your own!

THE BOY IS BACK IN TOWN

[Green Light]"Superboy" will be returning to "Adventure Comics" by Geoff Johns and Francis Manipul.

The character was recently killed off during pitched legal battles between DC Comics and the estate of Superman and Superboy co-creator Jerry Siegel. Establishing that Superboy was a separate creation not covered by the initial Superman deal meant that the ownership, control and revenue stream of the character was in doubt. And suddenly he disappeared from the comics in a fairly contrived fashion.

Well, it looks like the DC lawyers have decided that they do have the rights to publish the character, even if they may have to pay extra for the privelege. So it's all systems go...

On that point, it looks like reordered copies of "Watchmensch" have been making it through to comic shops. Diamond still have a good hundred in stock, so if you want one, tell your retailer now, order code JAN094081.

You know, while this panel still makes sense.

BITS AND PIECES

[Green Light]Susan Boyle meets Doctor Who's Kandyman in this RichAndMark.com YouTube mashup

With "Heroes" producer Jesse Alexander's "Day One" being picked up by NBC, could Jeph Loeb return to writing TV shortly?

As Nite Owls' second season comes to an end at Zuda, the creators have produced their own PDF commentary track...

And since everyone else is linking to it... thank you Tom.

SMALL PRINT

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

I write and draw a cartoon every week for the UK's biggest political blog, Guido Fawkes. Here's the latest one.

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

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.

TAGS:  dwayne mcduffie, justice league of america, free comic book day, mcfarlane toys

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