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Tue, November 23rd, 2010 at 1:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
7

THAT THOR THING THAT THEE THINKETH THUCKTH

"Thor: The Mighty Avenger" got canceled. Why is this? Low sales. Book doesn't make money, company doesn't make book. Simple as that. Those who wish to promote some conspiracy theory about Marvel hating good books are just, well, trolls or conspiracy theorists. Just because the book was done by two internet favorites in Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee, doesn't mean anyone else is buying it -- or, heck, that anyone on the 'net is buying it.

Recent stats point to a monthly sales total of 10,000 copies. For Marvel, there's no question that it's not worth printing this book anymore, unless there's some huge demand at Disney World for it.

Combine that with an overabundance of Thor-related titles and a comics industry that has been created to keep only the "main" character titles going, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Did anyone really think an all-ages "Thor" book stood a chance? The only theory for that is if you thought Marvel would be publishing a loss-leader in anticipation for having something to sell to movie audiences next year. And after publishing six issues of a low-selling title, they've already done that. Count your blessings that you're getting eight, and Marvel hasn't cancelled the second trade collection due out in March. It's a good thing they managed to only put four issues in each trade. In fact, I wonder if that's why it went the whole eight issues, instead of just six. If they planned the series initially for six issue trade collections, I bet you'd have never seen issue seven.

The Direct Market is an ugly beast sometimes, and this is one of its uglier parts: Non-canon books that are all-ages are 95% of the times dead on arrival. It's nice of the publishers to try it once in a while, but they never take.

Also dead on arrival: humor titles, books starring female characters who keep their clothes on, all-ages books labeled as "all-ages" or "family friendly," books that don't crossover with major events, books that only sell well during crossovers with major events, and books that aren't connected to the main corporate universe yet feature corporate characters.

Please note: Tom DeFalco's "Spider-Girl" is an exception to every above rule. Though, I will note, the title has been replaced to feature a character set in the current Marvel Universe. By all accounts, she's keeping her clothes on, though. Also, DeFalco's "Spider-Girl" was canceled more times than any comic in modern history. So take it all with a grain of kosher salt.

BAT-BOOKS BONANZA; BATMAN'S BUSINESS BEGINS

Got my copies of the three big Bat-Books of the past week: "Batman: The Return," "Batman" #704 and "Batman Incorporated" #1. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it all was. I'm not necessarily a Grant Morrison fan, and the recent upheavals of the Bat-books and the DC Universe haven't interested me all that much, but these three books are enough to make me a believer that there might be some good times in store for us here. This is a family of titles worth watching. Let's go in what I think is the proper reading order:

"Batman: The Return" -- so named because "Batman Returns" was already taken and NOBODY wants to be reminded of that mess -- is Grant Morrison and David Finch kicking off the new status quo with a special one shot and a cardboard cover. Bruce Wayne is back. He's wearing a Batman costume. He's publicly financing the Batman operation, and he's letting Dick and Damian carry on as Gotham's Batman and Robin. In other words, Morrison gets the best of both worlds. He gets to keep Dick Grayson as Batman, but still keep Bruce Wayne as Batman. And he gets to "modernize" things by bringing in the business angle of it, which is something I'm sure will be explored in the future by one of the books.

Question Number One: Isn't WayneCorp/Wayne Industries/Wayne Whatever opening itself up to even more supervillain attacks?

Question number two: If you embezzle from Wayne, will Batman hang you off the side of a tall building until enough pennies shake from your pocket to pay Bruce Wayne back?

The opening sequence of the issue is groan-worthy, the type of stuff that Morrison disbelievers point to as ridiculous fluff. But once we get past the sequence of a bat flying and dying -- getting ripped out of the air by a bat that looks like a flying coyote at first blush -- we move onto an excellent action piece of Batman atop some building's helipad, a helicopter burning in the background, and people jumping off rooftops. It's very cool, and it's the kind of thing you'd expect to see a movie open with, or perhaps a Chuck Dixon script. Finch wisely goes to the long panels for a couple of pages to show the vertical action. It's easy to read, sparsely dialogued and an exciting action bit.

And, then, after those two starts to the story and a sequence in the Bat cave to set up the current Bat Family status quo, it's off to the races with a new villain/villainous organization. We get to see the characters in action again and learn a bit more about the foil for Batman who I think will be playing a big part in the overall Bat arc for a while to come. We'll see.

Finch is an artist who's still frustratingly stuck drawing two faces, both of them grimacing and unflinching. (Remember that spread in Bendis' "Avengers" book where all of those characters appeared and they all had the exact same look on their faces?) Thankfully, there are a lot of masks around. But the rest of the time, his work in this book is awesome. I love the double page spread introducing the Bat Cave, but I've always been an easy mark for such detailed architectural drawings. The action sequences have some great moments in them, with all the accompanying smoke, grime, and muscle that you'd need to sell the scene. Finch will be off on his own, writing and drawing Batman's adventures in another title soon. Hopefully, he'll keep the characters in costume and have them doing issue-long action set pieces in a variety of locations. If he plays to his strengths like that and minimizes the talking heads, he might be OK.

"Batman Incorporated" #1 is the other Morrison-penned title for the week. Focusing on Bruce Wayne's trip to Japan to recruit that nation's Batman and featuring great art from Yanick Paquette, this one has Batman and Catwoman solving a crime and flirting their way across the gym. Hey, if you've got Paquette, you might as well have him draw some ladies, right? Bonus points to both for including the tentacle manga background gags in the issue. The look on Catwoman's face is priceless. Oddly enough, the book ends suddenly with a pastiche on the old Batman television series. I guess that's Morrison's cue to the readers that this is meant to be the wilder book in the family. This is the superhero Batman book, focusing on action/adventure, all done with a bit of a nod and a wink.

I'm not well-versed on the DC Universe these days and don't know if Mr. Unknown is a previously established figure or not. That lack of knowledge didn't hurt me at any point in reading the book, though. It's a well-drawn thrill-a-minute book

Did you know? Catwoman's chest is more covered up when she's laying around the house in her underwear than when she's out fighting crime? Effective distraction, I suppose?

The real surprise of the week for me, though, was Tony Daniel's "Batman" #704. I know he hasn't been a real critical favorite in recent years, particularly when illustrating Morrison's stories. But this issue is pretty good. For starters, Daniel's art has come leaps and bounds in the last few years. His work here looks loose and sketchy compared to what I remember, from his creator-owned work days at Image and Dark Horse. Yes, it's stronger on the superhero pages, but the talking heads scenes are not fundamentally flawed or ugly.

The superhero scenes, though, are the highlights of the book. Daniel's art adapts a sketchier look, incorporating a bit of the feathering of Joe Kubert's art with a dash of Guy Davis' cartooning. It's a little scratchy, but still complete and well-constructed work. Every splash page or near-splash page is a winner in this book, with lots of lightning and rain and steam to help make it look cooler.

There are some pacing issues with the issue, such as a couple of splash pages that might look cooler than they needed to be for storytelling purposes. But you know what? I'm willing to trade that awkwardness for a cool pin-up every once in a while. This is "Batman," not a literary graphic novel trading on its precision or perfection of story telling styles. I'm OK with extravagance and fun.

Three winning Bat titles in one week? That's a pretty good haul. The trick for DC now is to keep the trains running on time with the same conductors for more than three issues. If they can do that, they have a world of possibilities in front of them with the Bat books right now. I want to read more.

I hear "Batgirl" has been good lately, too. I'm going to keep an eye out for a trade paperback there soon, too.

MONDAY MELTDOWN! MAXIMUM MAYHEM! MOVIE-GOERS MAD!

The second attempt at Comic-Con International: San Diego ticket registration blew up all the servers on Monday morning. I wonder if even SquareSpace's virtualized servers could survive the nuclear bomb that would drop on them when these tickets are made available?

I bet the convention is so popular because it was referred to as an "animation convention" on "Hollywood Treasure" on SyFy recently. Yeah, I'm sure that's it.

As much of a geek gadget high tech early adopter guy as I am, I fear it might be time to go back to a 1-800 number and an awful lot of busy rings. Or mail order with a lottery component.

Or, perhaps, it's time to hire a company that can actually handle the load. If Apple can keep a video livestream of a Steve Jobs keynote nearly glitch-free for an hour and a half, surely someone out there on the internet can set something up for selling tickets like this.

Things have gotten so bad that I've seen people on-line asking for TicketMaster to take over. At this point, what's a few bucks on "convenience fees" and "surchages" and all the rest?

TERRIFIC TEASERS TANTALIZE

No, wait, that headline is completely the opposite of how I feel. It was just easier to alliterate it.

Have you seen those teaser images Image Comics has been sending out on a daily basis for what seems like the last month? It's exactly the opposite of what a teaser campaign should be. It's poorly focused, completely random and obnoxious. It's such a bad example of marketing that I'm beginning to wonder if it's a prank Image is playing. Has the teaser campaign -- remember Marvel teasing out "Avengers" lineups? -- been so played out that Image wants to make a crazy point of it all? I thought they already did that with Robert Kirkman and his "Global Guardians" faux campaign, which featured President Obama as one of the characters. But maybe this is taking the idea so far out that everyone will realize how silly it is and will give up on being played like this.

Make no mistake about it, this is a marketing department abusing the good will of comics press release-reprinting journalism. And if there is a book (or "books," considering how disconnected most images are) behind this madness, it's damaged goods now. It'll be tainted by this silly overblown campaign, and by the fact that all the chatter about the book has been about the campaign and not the book, itself.

This could also be the Andy Kaufman moment of comics, where the marketing department of a company that might be inclined to say they get less attention than The Big Two, is making a point at how the silliness of the other guys' marketing tactics shouldn't work. Don't those teaser campaigns serve to drown out the smaller guys? And wouldn't it be funny if Image abused the system completely, and the participants willfully reprinted every stupid incoherent juvenile teaser image along the way? How silly would those outlets look?

I'm rooting for Andy Kaufman. Anything else would be a disappointment. Sadder still, someone will be bound to try to top it. Batten down the hatches!

Bonus Bit: Good news! Stan Sakai is still alive. He updated his blog yesterday. Bonus: How to properly pronounce Darko Macan's last night.

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

Where else I hang out: AugieShoots.com || < A HREF="http://www.variousandsundry.com" target="_blank">VariousandSundry.com

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