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Tue, August 10th, 2010 at 2:28pm PDT | Updated: August 11th, 2010 at 4:49am

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

Update: DC has since announced that the original graphic novel line is continuing as planned.  Robot 6 has word from J. Michael Straczynski, as well, on how the mistake came about.  My apologies to DC for the misinterpretation.

I'll leave this part of the column intact, though, because it does raise some interesting questions about comics publishing today.  Just please keep in mind that the original impetus for it is based on a misreading of a quotation.  I hope this new line is a success, because I want to see more stories done in complete editions like this, allowing companies like Marvel and DC to follow in the successful publishing model of the likes of "Scott Pilgrim" and, arguably, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."  That would be the ultimate goal, wouldn't it? I'm happy to see that DC is sticking with the format and the line.

DC'S LATEST FAILURE OF NERVE

How about this for hiding in plain sight? From a CBR write-up of the Superman panel at San Diego a couple of weeks ago comes this bit of news:

"The last question went to Straczynski. The fan asked whether the writer plans on continuing the "Earth One" stories. The writer revealed that the hardcover release will be followed up with single issues, which will later be collected."

It was only Sunday of this week that people started noticing it. I think this is a classic case of burying your lede.

It's disappointing. I shake my head at the news. But does it matter? I don't know. It's more business as usual. The only question it prompts in my mind is this: Would "Scott Pilgrim" have developed such a following had it been released in six issue story arcs with a trade paperback release compiling those issues once a year? Would the singular OGNs have lost their specialness if the audience was split between the Wednesday crowd and the bookstore crowd? There's a lot of variables in there to consider, not all of which can be easily quantified.

So much of today's consumer products industry is built on careful marketing. Apple announced the original iPhone in January, not to be released until June. The iPad was announced in January, and not released until April. The entire comics industry is marketed on the basis of "What comes next?" (How many interviewers have asked Brian Lee O'Malley that question by now, do you think?) "Previews" is a big 300 page marketing documenting for "What's next?" two or more months hence.

After a comic is released, you have a week to discuss it before the industry moves on to the next thing. There's an old saw in advertising about your ad needing to be seen at least, what, three times before people remember it. Are monthly comics just advertising? Do we need to see a new issue of a series three months in a row to get into it? How slow does a book coming out every six weeks, or bi-monthly, feel? How many readers drop the bi-monthly books to wait for a trade?

Can comics have it both ways? "The Walking Dead" does, but is that more the exception than the rule? Is that a singular thing? Or should we all learn a lesson from it and adjust our storytelling styles accordingly?

I think that might be the problem with comics today. The industry relies on two things to keep it going: Hollywood money and reprints. The first is out of the scope of this column. The latter, though, is key. How do you create comics that are entertaining to both the monthly readers and the trade waiters? I think the first answer to that is cliffhangers. I know many frown on them, but you need to draw the reader back next month with a convincing last page. It needs to truly be the end of a chapter in the story, and not just the spot where the comic happened to run out of pages. Paired with that, the cliffhanger has to be believable. "The Walking Dead" is not "Spider-Man" or "Superman." The latter two rely on false jeopardies. Spider-Man's not really going to die. But random survivalist on a bus being attacked by zombies might truly get pushed off the cliff on the first page of the next issue.

I know I have a lot of questions here without many solid answers. People are pointing to management changes at DC in the year since the "Earth One" OGNs were announced as the reason that they're going away. Is it possible that the bookstores this format was aimed at didn't respond kindly to it? Do bookstores only want proven books -- books that weren't flops in the Direct Market? Do book stores now see the Direct Market as their R&D lab, the way Hollywood sees comics publishers?

I don't know. It's frustrating. The only thing that's for certain here is that DC has announced yet another line of titles that it's bailing out on. At least Zuda and CMX were given a chance. "Earth One" had its parachute pulled with only one foot out of the plane. It's being transformed into DC's Ultimate Universe. We saw how well that worked out for "All-Star," of which one 12 issue run has been completed, one run is on hiatus until next year, and other hinted-at runs (Adam Hughes on "All Star Wonder Woman"?) are complete vaporware. Heck, I bet Hughe's "Wonder Woman" will see the light of day under a third different imprint by the time it's finished.

Getting back to the advertising bit, though, DC hasn't given the books enough of a chance to succeed before declaring them a failure. "Earth One" didn't have its three impressions upon the readership first. In monthly comics parlance, imagine "Powers" #1 and "The Walking Dead" #1. Both of those, as I recall, were published at a loss. Good thing DC wasn't involved in their financials.

If I were a DC fan, I'd be very worried about what this decision says about their line of Vertigo Crime OGNs. If Superman can't sell outside of the Direct Market, what hope does DC pin on crime comics?

So, yeah, business as usual in superhero comics. Try to contain your surprise.

BRODY'S GHOST

"Brody's Ghost" marks Mark Crilley's return to comics, years after his "Akiko" ended its run and he disappeared into Direct Market obscurity. This new work is very manga-influenced, telling the story of Scott Pilgrim being befriended by a ghost girl.

No, really, Brody is a broke loser who plays guitar and is pining after his ex-girlfriend. He's Scott Pilgrim, minus the heads up display.

After that, though, everything is different. Brody lives in a world that, if it isn't technically post-apocalyptic, then it's definitely Detroit. Crilley doesn't get into any detail on how this world came to be, and I'm not sure if he ever really needs to. It's enough to know that the city is pretty run down and the criminals own certain parts of it.

So Brody is playing guitar on the street, hoping for tips, when he's befriended by a ghost girl who needs his help to gain entry into heaven. She needs to catch a serial murderer, but she's intangible, so she can't do it. As plots go, it's a little out there. I'm hoping the girl's story about how she died is true and that it isn't part of a larger conspiratorial plot. I'd rather have a story that focuses on characterization than story arc at this point, I guess.

After that, why this task needs to be achieved is something you'll just have to buy into. But, hey, we're talking about a ghost girl in a post-apocalyptic future. If your disbelief isn't already suspended, this book never stood a chance for you, anyway.

Crilley's art is a blend of two worlds. Characters have very manga-esque faces and the storytelling uses some of the same tricks: speedlines, small panels, smaller page sizes, etc. But past that, he adds in a lot of his own cartoonier style, which gives the book a feel somewhat between Terry Moore's cartooning and Scott Kolins' open-line look. The architecture and background work is remarkable. Crilley draws some mean rubble and crumbling infrastructure. I'd buy this book if it was only a tour of the city, just for the art.

His storytelling is also strong. He plays the absurdity of the talking ghost and the stunned silent Brody well. The characters sell their emotions, and Crilley's timing on the gags is smart.

Again, this is just the beginning of a longer story. The series is set for a six volume run, and I just hope it’s not too hidden a gem, so we can see it through to the end.

Dark Horse's presentation of the material is a thin 96 page softcover, about five inches square in size with a square binding and black and white interiors. The printing job is great, the book looks fantastic, and the price ($6.99) is low enough to head off your wallet's worries.

I get the feeling that when the book is done, we'll see it rereleased in a one or two volume set. Heck, maybe they'll do a bumper edition of the first three volumes when the fourth comes out. That'll put the series close to your standard manga volume, page count wise.

For now, "Brody's Ghost" is off to an interesting start, giving us well-defined characters in an interesting world on the brink of a bigger adventure. The art is nice to look at, and the storytelling is easy to follow. For a hint of what's coming next, check out CBR's interview with Crilley, complete with a sample of a color story for the series. If that's not enough for you, watch Crilley draw Brody while talking about the series on YouTube., and thumb through Dark Horse's preview pages.

PIPELINE RETRO: CROSSGEN'S THE CROSSOVERS

"The Crossovers" was designed as an on-going series, but only made it to the ninth issue by the end of 2003. I only have the first six issues which, thankfully, form the first story arc, so I wasn't left hanging too badly. CrossGen was a firm believer in doing everything in six issue chunks, since that's what their trade paperback program was designed around.

Robert Rodi's series features a classic nuclear family of four -- Mom (Calista), Dad (Carter), Daughter (Cris), Son (Cliff) -- each of whom is hiding a secret about their dual lives. Dad is a superhero. Mom is a vampire hunter. The son was abducted by aliens and is serving as their conduit to take over the earth. And the daughter, who's always so concerned about being fat, is an extra-dimensional warrior princess in the Red Sonja/Xena mode. That's why the title is so fitting for this series. It's also not terribly subtle, though Rodi has fun with it, coming up with a cute historical reason for the family's last name in the first issue. (Seriously, subtlety is not the book's strong suit. The next door neighbor who constantly tries to prove alien conspiracies is named "Perry Noia." If you don't like puns, stay away.)

The series is one long slow burn of a comedy. In the first issue, we're introduced to each character and see what their alternate lives entail. By the second, we're learning some of the personal characteristics that drive them to do what they do. With the third, we're off and running as disparate plot lines start blending together and everyone's secret is up for grabs. The whole thing gets wilder and more complicated until the fateful sixth issue, where things blow up and Rodi delivers one of the best final issues to a storyline that I've read recently. It goes against everything that the final issue like this ought to be, and I loved it.

To be sure, the path getting there is a little choppy. With four separate plot lines that need tending to, there's a lot of choppy storytelling. The manner in which Rodi keeps these lives separate does stretch the limits of your imagination, but if you're a willing reader, there's a lot to like here. "The Crossovers" is a comedy, so willing suspension of disbelief shouldn't be a problem. The tone fits. You can laugh at the nervous vampire-hunting mother changing the kids' bed sheets for black sheets with crucifixes on them, or the way citizens on the streets can't help but narrate characters' origins as they pass by due to the Weisinger Effect. It's all in good fun.

Characterizations often inform the genre elements, too. While Dad is a little one dimensional, the kids have a few ticks that help explain their side lives. The son feels picked on and doesn't like the other kids, so it makes sense that he might want to wipe them off the face of the earth with the help of an alien invasion. The teenage daughter's worries that she's fat make sense, given that she's an Amazonian woman who can battle with the best of them. She's not fat, she's just built bigger. That's a subtle difference that is believable as something a teenage girl might fret over.

The art is by Belgian artist, Mauricet, who's also done work at Image for "Tellos" and plenty of stuff for his native Franco-Belgian comics. (I reviewed one of them, "Scared to Death," as reprinted by Cinebook, last year.) It's not as slick or as accomplished as his later work, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. His characters are distinct and well animated, but he's careful to place them in environments and atmospheres that never look cheap or tacked on behind the figure drawing. He uses a variety of angles besides just medium eye-level shots, so the drawings never get boring. It just looks a little looser and less consistent here.

Ernie Colon is the inker on the series, though I'm not sure if he was the right choice, or if it's just Mauricet's art that was naturally awkward at that time. Some lines look a little gloopy, as their thickness seems at odds with the art. But the other 95% of the time, everything looks fine.

The coloring from Mark McNabb is akin to Paul Mounts work with the saturation slide pinned to the right. I like the colorful look and the bright colors, but there are some moments where it's overdone, like someone using Photoshop for the first time. The blues are overwhelmingly blue. The reds are shockingly red. Et cetera.

"The Crossovers" is a genre-based sitcom that comes with a plot and strong characterization, not just a string of obvious gags. Rodi doesn't stoop to simple call-outs to well known genre properties, keeping things more abstract and giving himself the ability to set his own rules for each.

I don't think this is a book we'll see Marvel return to. It was published under CrossGen's "Code 6" label, which was meant to be a shared-rights line, done in exchange for an upfront paycheck in exchange for 75% of the rights to the comic. If you want more work from Robert Rodi, check out "Codename Knockout," a Vertigo series from the same era that DC is just publishing reprints of now. As a bonus, Amanda Conner drew an issue in that trade.

Doing a quick Wikipedia look-up reminded me of just how many different entities CrossGen eventually broke itself up into. "CrossGen Entertainment" had separate divisions for its comics publishing, MegaCon (the Florida convention they bought), CrossGen Education (the company was big on placing its comics in libraries and crafting curricula around them for teachers), CrossGen Productions (for movie/tv stuff), CrossGen Media (for Hollywood stuff and licensing), CrossGen Technologies (Alessi, coming from a computer background, invested a lot in the tech around the company, including an internal tracking system for production that Brandon Peterson programmed, as I recall), and more. Some of the divisions seemed to overlap. It's all so very confusing, but I'm betting it was done so that if one division couldn't cover its debts, it wouldn't take down the rest along with it. If the publishing goes underwater, Alessi would still own the IPs (under "CrossGen Intellectual Property, LLC") and the Hollywood rights.

And Disney got the bulk of it. I think MegaCon is the only thing that got away, really.

Crazy world, isn't it?

ASIMOV WOULD NOT BE AMUSED

You may have seen the mentions last week of the misspelling on the alternate cover of "S.H.I.E.L.D." #3.

It's not the first time, though. Check out Marvel's page on "S.H.I.E.L.D." #1. It's consistently misspelled there, too! (Also, see CBR's preview for the current issue.)

But look at what I saw while reading "Infinity Gauntlet" #1 yesterday:

In the Marvel Universe, it really is "ISSAC," I guess...Or the Marvel Central Design Computer only ever had to spellcheck for one person, and not the other.

Next week: Another review. Or two. I'm a reading machine these days.

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

Where else I hang out: AugieShoots.com || iPhone Photo Blog || VariousandSundry.com

TAGS:  pipeline, crossgen, dc comics, earth one, crossovers, brody's ghost, dark horse comics

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