Friday, December 28, 2012

Comic Books Today - A Fanboy Commentary


Wesley Willis - I Whupped Batman's Ass
Live @ Club Soda, Kalamazoo MI. (2003)

Can you believe that I was actually at that Wesley Willis show? Indeed I was!

Anyway, let's get real.

I've been a comic book reader/collector for the bulk of my life. I picked up the hobby around the age of 11 when my uncle gave me his collection of Batman, Green Arrow and Punisher comics. I also had another uncle who was a huge Spider-Man fanatic, and had two rooms in his house dedicated to comic books and toys. Having witnessed that "even adults read comics," I was destined to be a fan of the medium.

Green Arrow Vol. 2
Issues 1-80 by Mike Grell
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

I read comics until I was around 16, when I stopped for a few years (heavy metal became my new passion). The year was 1996, and the industry was in foul shape. Almost everything released was boring and hacky, with every book looking the same and more emphasis on muscles and violence than an actual story. Why the hell would I want to read that shit when I had Megadeth and Slayer to worship instead?

Hey, even Scott Ian of Anthrax loves comics...

I picked up comic book reading again in 2001 due to my soul-brother who lives in the Bedroom in the Basement, as he got me hooked on classic DC Comics events like Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, The Final Night and so forth. I started subscribing to all of the Superman titles and the big event stories. It's been a nonstop ride ever since.

DC Comics - OUR WORLDS AT WAR (2001)
This is where I jumped in with weekly/monthly reading again.

Over the past 13 years I've seen my pull-list at the local comic shop grow and shrink. I've seen the careers of several in the industry rise and fall. I've born witness to countless event stories and even more reboots. With the industry only serving roughly 90,000 people in the U.S., comic book reading is definitely an insular hobby. You're either in or out. I understand those who feel they can't get into this stuff. To them I say "just jump in and enjoy the ride." It certainly worked for me.

However, the comic book industry is in sad, desperate times. The never-ending events and reboots have jaded many readers. Furthermore, many comics released by both DC and Marvel comics are a whopping $4 an issue. With the standard page-count for comics today being a measly 20 pages, one has to ask if this hobby is worth a gallon of gas per issue.

BULLSHIT.

I simply refuse to read any $4 titles that only offer 20 pages of story. Avengers, Captain America, Indestructible Hulk, Thor: God of Thunder, Iron Man....these are all books I would love to read on a weekly basis, but not for what they are priced. I honestly think that anyone who pays $4 for 20 pages is a moron. There's just no logical way to defend it.

On the other side of the fence, you've got DC Comics being run by a bunch of dinosaurs left over from the 1990's. People who were partly responsible for the dreck that the 1990's produced are now in control of my favorite superhero publisher. Long-time DC writers have been having huge problems with editorial, Time-Warner interferes with the books now more than ever (they want some of that Marvel-Movie-Money after all), and many of their books lack any sort of flow or consistency.

Rob Liefeld, synonymous with "shitty '90's comics."
Still working in the industry as of 2012 (however, no longer for DC)

I've never been a fan of longtime DC writer (and former MTV's Real World douche) Judd 'Fuckass' Winick (as I like to call him), but even he has left DC Comics to focus on some all-ages material for an independent press. Grant Morrison, arguably one of the most creative people in the industry and a mainstay at DC Comics, has said that he's leaving superhero books behind once he wraps up a couple stories he's working on to focus on his own creator-owned material. Paul Cornell left DC to return to Marvel due to his problems with DC's editorial staff. Even long-time DC writer Gail Simone was recently fired via email, and then re-hired once the news of her firing nearly broke the comic book community in half.

Judd Winick. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
However, his departure from DC shows how screwed up they are.

These are dire times for superhero fans, my friends. I for one can't simply find enjoyment from the books the main publishers in the industry are producing. They've become so bloated with bullshit that its hard to find enjoyment from the bulk of them. Sure, the Batman books are awesome and so is Hawkeye (surprisingly only a $3 book), but I need more.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction.
Currently the best book on the stands for $2.99 an issue.
How long until the inevitable price hike?

Maybe I've taken superhero books for granted. As previously mentioned, it gets harder and harder to justify $3 or $4 for a book that will bring me 5-10 minutes of enjoyment. Is there salvation? Is there a place for me to go where I can find decently priced books that I'll enjoy rather than bitch and complain about?

As it turns out...salvation is where it has ALWAYS been, and that's in the hands of the independent press.

Newsflash to those that don't believe me....The Walking Dead, arguably the most successful comic book of all time, is not only a popular TV show right now....but also an independently-produced comic book that has been successful since its first issue came out nearly 9 years ago. Walking Dead-creator Robert Kirkman first built a name for himself at Marvel before moving on 100% to his creator-owned work. Many other writers have also built names for themselves at one of the Big Two companies (DC and Marvel, respectfully), and then start making some real money from their creator-owned titles that are released from the independent press.

The Walking Dead
Proof that good (and profitable) independent comics DO exist for $3 an issue.

Image Comics, once the home to most of the shitty comic books in the 1990's (Spawn, Savage Dragon, ShadowhawkYoungblood and Bloodstrike, to name a few), is now the defacto home for writers with their own story to tell. While Image still publish the likes of Spawn and Savage Dragon, they mainly release creator-owned books. Robert Kirkman, Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, Brian Wood, Jonathan Hickman, Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, Scott Snyder and nearly every other main comic book writer today has at least one creator-owned title released by Image Comics, Vertigo (DC's creator-owned imprint), Dark Horse Comics or Oni Press.

And here's the kicker....those creator-owned books are far superior to anything being published by DC or Marvel right now.

So here I sit, a jaded 32-year-old comic book reader who is feeling disillusioned with the industry. 2012 marks the year that I made a switch from print comics to digital (half of my current subscriptions are purchased digitally). I mainly wait for the creator-owned books to be released in a trade paperback, as I get more enjoyment out of those stories than I do reading them issue-by-issue.

While I do still find it hard to stop following certain books or characters, more and more I am checking out the creator-owned titles that are out there. Below is a Top 5 of current creator-owned books that put a smile on my face.

SAGA 
by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Image Comics

This is one of the most praised books of 2012, and with good reason. Written by Brian K. Vaughn (of Y: The Last Man and TV's Lost fame), this book has equal parts sci-fi and fantasy with plenty of romantic tension and outworldly scenarios. The book masterfully takes references from our real world and mixes them with the sci-fi insanity of the Saga world. This is after all a book where robots with computer-heads and human bodies have sex. You're not going to see that in a Captain America comic, that's for sure!

CHEW
by John Layman and Rob Guillory
Image Comics

Chew is just an all-out fun comic book that revels in everything ridiculous. Its full of oddball and dark humor, and has an overlying mystery that has yet to fully unfold. Set in a world where chicken has been outlawed and the F.D.A. is the most powerful enforcement agency on the planet, Chew is full of social commentary and just straight-up fun. Almost every issue will make you smile, if not chuckle a bit. John Layman has recently been hired to write Detective Comics for DC. Hopefully DC will help raise his profile so that more people will look towards Chew. There's 6 trades available for this story now. Jump in!

SWEET TOOTH 
by Jeff Lemire
Vertigo Comics

Jeff Lemire is one of my favorite creators right now. I'd also have to say he's been a big influence on my own comic book writing, as he's a master at developing character and dialogue. Sweet Tooth is just about to wrap up its 40-issue run, but all the trades are widely available. If you like post-apocalypse with a weird animal-human-hybrid twist, then this is a book to check out. I also highly recommend any of Jeff Lemire's other self-contained creator-owned books, Essex County and The Underwater Welder. If you like character-driven stories with a sense of mystery, then look no further than the works of Jeff Lemire.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS 
by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
Image Comics

Jonathan Hickman is one of Marvel's top writers right now, as he's handling the Avengers franchise at the moment, and just came off a highly-regarded run on Fantastic Four. However, The Manhattan Projects is where you really see Hickman shine. The set-up of the story is simple: The scientists behind the atomic bomb, a.k.a. The Manhattan Project, used the project as a front for even more dastardly experiments. Einstein is a locked-down loner, Oppenheimer is actually the sociopath/psychotic half-brother of the real Oppenheimer, and the government is into sci-fi elements so deep, that everything is secretly in chaos. Its a great book with a lot of mystery, look into it.

MIND MGMT.
by Matt Kindt
Dark Horse Comics

Its hard not to notice some of the similarities between the works of Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire. They have a similar art style, and have worked together on a few projects. Matt Kindt even supplied fill-in art on a few issues of Sweet Tooth when Jeff Lemire needed some extra time to finish The Underwater Welder. Anyway, what makes Mind Mgmt. so amazing is that its a well-crafted mystery with amazing twists and hooks in each issue. It also spits right in the face of the problems with the current comic book market.

True, each issue is $3.99 but this is the ONLY book in all of creation that deserves to be read despite the cover price. First off, each issue is 24 pages. There are mini-stories included on the front-inside and back-inside covers. There's 2-page back-ups that add to the world of the story being told. Even the back covers of the book feature fake advertisements, which when put together at the end of an arc adds more to the story at hand. Each page also has little blurbs added near the spine of the book in fine blue print that add another layer of texture. Furthermore, all of these bonus things won't appear in the trade paperback. Mind Mgmt. is truly a book worth the cover price, as it takes me a good 20 minutes or so to fully digest each and every issue.

Yes, dolphins are creepy as hell in real life & in Mind Mgmt.
They must be stopped.

In conclusion, I feel that a major shift in the comic book reading populace is needed. As a whole, we need to stop supporting the corporate books as much as we have been, and start looking towards the creator-owned books. DC and Marvel are corporate shills, who are selling out their characters for movie treatments and quick cash-ins.

Even though I enjoyed the Kick-Ass movie, I'm a bit pissed that writer Mark Millar uses the comic book medium to pitch movies to Hollywood.

This is NOT what comic books should be about. They are not meant to be storyboards for movies. Great art and even greater storytelling is what keeps us coming back to our subscriptions week after week, not the fact that it could be a cool movie. Its time to send a message to the Big Two to stop fucking around and get back to story, not spectacle.

Even as I say that, I know I'll never be able to leave corporate comics entirely. However, they make it easier and easier each and every month to start looking elsewhere to spend my entertainment dollars. If you're like me and have become jaded with the Big Two...check out those creator-owned books I listed above. They will make you love comics again. GUARANTEED.

I'll catch y'all on the flipside. Until then, happy reading!

And Scott Ian....go ahead and bow us out with your Judge Dredd song, ya bald bastard!

Anthrax - "I Am The Law" (1987)

4 comments:

  1. I had no idea that there was any footage of that Kalamazoo Wesley Willis show out there on youtube but I guess I never really looked, but I do have his autograph framed from the show still hanging on my wall its a treasure!!! and the poor bastard died like four months after that show lucky we got to see him before his final hellride!! mental illness can be productive he was proof of that.

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    1. Dude I still have mine too. On a ATM receipt showing $13 in my checking account, lol.

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  2. Good blog Matt. I have fond memories of hanging out in your original "Matt Cave" in the summer of 2001 reading epic comic stories whilst listening to Black Sabbath.

    The only two books I buy from DC now are Action Comics and Worlds' Finest (and that's mostly for the artwork of Maguire and Perez). From Marvel, I read Fantastic Four, FF, and Amazing Spider-Man. You'll notice that only one of those books I mentioned is $3.99 (Spider-Man).

    I can't justify $3.99 for a comic either...I picked up Hickman's Avengers #1 and was disappointed. It was a cool concept but overall an underwhelming story, and I just do not like the art.

    As far as independents go, I'm digging Saga also, and I love IDW's Ghostbusters series. The writer really captures the voice of each character (you can imagine Murray and Akyroyd's voices as you read the dialogue) and it is full of little Easter Eggs hardcore fans would get. Now that's good comics! I almost forgot, Vertigo's Punk Rock Jesus has been very good also.

    So it looks like I only buy 8 comics monthly...I can remember when I bought 5x that amount about 6 years ago. Shit has just been disappointing from Marvel and DC for the past year and a half or so.

    I do wanna get some of the Batman books, but I would have to think of them as still being part of the pre-"New 52" continuity...I will never accept how so many old stories were discarded. Shit sucks!

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    1. Yeah man, those were some glory days. "Our Worlds At War" matched up perfectly with Sabbath's "Supertzar." That's a memory burn right there my friend.

      Never looked into World's Finest. I read the first 6 issues of Earth 2, but ultimately gave it up because James Robinson is a hack motherfucker. Ohhhh Alan Scott is gay now, who cares. There was no substance to the first arc other than that preachy shit. It was like he was trying too hard to show that gay people are normal folks.

      I'm still reading Jonah Hex in All-Star Western. Action Comics and the Batman books are the only $4 books I get, but those all have back-up stories so I can swallow the load.

      I'm going to have to look into Ghostbusters. Let me know what the perfect jump-on point is so I can pick up the trade.

      Wow, 8 books is good man. I wish my overall list was that low. I've been trying, but its a hard habit to break. Although I did finally drop Justice League, Nightwing, Batman & Robin and Demon Knights. I;m no following FF, but I'm giving Fractions' Fantastic Four a shot. His Hawkeye is amazing, you HAVE to read it! That and Daredevil are Marvel's best books right now at $2.99.

      You're really missing out on not reading Scott Snyder's Batman. You don't need to read any of the other shit...just his run. Trust me it's worth it. The current "Death of the Family" crossover deals with the fact that Joker actually "loves" Batman. Its been fascinating so far, and I'm not even reading all the tie-in crap.

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