Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
One of [Marvel publisher] Martin [Goodman]'s outrageously successful business moves during the last years of his tenure at Marvel was to trick the industry's top company, DC Comics (then called National Periodical Publications), into committing an ultimately disastrous page-count and pricing change for the publisher of Superman, resulting in what then DC editorial director (soon to be publisher) Carmine Infantino characterized as a "slaughter" committed by Marvel upon his company. In an audaciously daring move, the House of Ideas raised the page count of its regular titles 75% from 32 to 48 pages, accompanied by a 75% price hike from 15¢to 25¢ on its October and November 1971 cover-dated books. Immediately DC followed suit, though significantly increasing their page count 100%, from 32 to 64 pages. But within a month, in a move that sent shockwaves through the industry, Goodman immediately dropped page count back to 32 pages yet only reducing the price per book to 20¢, still a 25% price increase from two months prior.Isn't that just crazy amazing? Can you just imagine Marvel pulling a complete financial jiu jitsu on DC like that? That is so amazing, I would make it a Friday Night Fights if we weren't on hiatus right now (hey, print is black and white, right?). Would such a thing be possible today?
The results of Martin's gambit? Marvel was able to give wholesalers a 50% discount off the cover price of their line, as compared to DC's mere 40% price break. And whose titles would the retailers be more likely to push, do you think? Plus, what kid could resist getting five snappy, all-new Marvels for a buck, compared to four DCs, padded with moldy, old reprints? Also, as DC had to lock into ordering huge quantities of paper-a full year's supply-the publisher was trapped at the 25¢, 64-page format for an entire year. (Historian Carl Gafford has surmised that the Wage and Price Controls of President Richard Nixon's Administration may have also played a factor in the DC debacle, a proposition CBA intends to examine with Gaff in the future.) Those 12 months were all the time DC's competitor needed to come out on top and, for the first time in their decades-old rivalry, Marvel surpassed DC in sales, only rarely looking back in the quarter-century passed since that fateful year. The DC supremacy on the comics racks ended in 1972 after an astonishing 35-year reign, a dynasty suddenly in disarray, scrambling to get back on top, while Martin Goodman sat very prettily indeed, ensconced in his new role as the King of Comics in this New Marvel Age.
However, there's a pretty big problem with this tale: the timeline doesn't work, at least not the way Cooke describes it. It fact, a lot about it doesn't ring correct:
- DC went up in price BEFORE Marvel did. DC went to 25¢ and a higher page count in issues dated August 1971. Marvel didn't go up to 25¢ until October 1971. That sure sounds like Marvel was reacting to DC's move, not vice versa.
- Just in case you think there might be some confusion between street dates and cover dates, all the Marvel September issues were emblazoned with "Still 15¢". Again, that clearly implies that Marvel was reacting to DC's increase, and advertising that. You saw the exact same thing in 1976, when DC went to 30¢, and for months Marvel emblazoned their covers with "Still Only 25¢".
- It's possible that DC was acting preemptively, I suppose, in response either to an announcement Marvel had made, or a leak from their offices. But if that's the case, was it really some master plan of Goodman's to kick DC in the groin financially? Or did he just get lucky? If it was a deliberate ploy, wasn't Goodman taking a gamble that DC would make the price/page jump in response? If this was some Machiavellian "gambit," what's the move if DC doesn't react, and doesn't go up first?
- DC wasn't "trapped at the 64-page format for an entire year." In fact, they were NEVER at 64 pages regularly. According to the GCD database, the page count the month DC went up to 25¢ was 52 (and later 48). Some of their comics still had their regular twice-a-year 64-page Giant (see the next item), but the regular issues were never 64 pages during that year-long period.
- Those "moldy, old reprints" were nothing new. In that period, DC every year turned 2 regular issues of their titles (July and December) into 80 or 64-page Giants, priced at 25¢, featuring nothing but reprints. If that hadn't hurt DC's sales, it's hard to fathom why the same price and format lead off by brand new stories would turn off the "kids." (Plus, on an editorial note, how many great stories were reprinted in those issues that we never would have gotten to see otherwise? "Moldy" my butt...)
I plead complete ignorance on the matter of wholesaler rates, year-long paper purchases, and wage and price controls. But the stuff I do know about, by simply looking at the covers of the comics and checking dates, seems to call into question how correct Cooke's story is.
Damn...another great anecdote ruined by the facts!! And here i was hoping Joe Quesada could trick DC into going down to $1.99...
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
But tonight will top them all. Because we're diving into Atlas territory!!
As you may recall from last night's exegesis, Tiger-Man was one gritty book, and character...at least in issue one. Let's set the scene: Young doctor Lannie Hill is interning in Zambia. For reasons that make no sense, his mentor there has a captive man-eating tiger from India. In some nebulous quest to study the "survival instinct," Hill "isolates the chromosome" that makes the tiger "so powerful." And as most comic book scientists are wont to do, he injects himself with the tiger chromosome. Why? Just go with it!!
Meanwhile, the jealous local witch doctor lets the tiger loose to cause havoc. Which results in the last thing you want to see during your midnight constitutional:
How will Dr. Hill survive?? This one ain't pretty, so if you're a PETA member, you might want to turn away:
First blow: 500 points!!
Uhhh...psycho loss of control??
Gee, ya think??
And thus begins the career of "the world's newest, most exciting super-hero!"
Of course, Bahlactus ALWAYS has the eye of the tiger...
Animal cruelty from Tiger-Man #1, 1975.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Except for one brief, not-so shining moment. For less than a year, an alternative stalked the landscape like a decaying zombie: Atlas Comics (also known as Atlas/Seaboard, to distinguish them from one of Marvel's earlier nom de guerres).
Founded by former Marvel owner/publisher Martin Goodman, Atlas is remembered today as something of a pioneer in creator rights. In order to compete with the Big Two, Atlas payed crazy high page rates to their artists, promised artists the return of all their art, and was the first in industry with a type of profit sharing/ownership of characters writers and artists created. A lot of notable veterans and young up-and-comers did work for Atlas. And there was serious excitement about the enterprise in the trade press and even the "regular" media.
Sadly, Atlas was also known as one of the most mismanaged companies EVER. Goodman assumed that he could duplicate Marvel's success without the magic of Stan & Jack & company. So he hired Stan's brother to be editor, and then micro-managed every creative decision to "make it more like Marvel." (A glance at this page of all the Atlas logos should give you an idea of how much they were trying to ape Marvel) At his insistence, Atlas often re-booted mags after 2 or 3 issues, completely changing their creative teams and premises on a whim. He installed his universally disliked son, Chip, as publisher, and many blamed his...well, his lack of comics background and creative sense for the constant shifts of direction. And, sad to say, most of the comics were crappy.
In the end, no Atlas title made it past 4 issues, and most didn't make it that far. The promises of returning art to the artists were largely broken, because much of the artwork was "stolen." And ater 10 months the comics line was no more.
And as for the ownership of creations, well, that turned out to not be pretty worthless for characters that lasted 2 issues and no one remembers. And it's hard to imagine in this day of The Twelve and Project Superhero, but as far as I know no one anywhere has resurrected a single Atlas character from limbo.
Which brings me to Tiger-Man. or is it Tigerman?
Special anal note: although the name Tiger-Man is hyphenated both in the logo and in the word balloon on the cover, it is NOT hyphenated anywhere on the inside, including the indicia. Do you know how much that bugs me?
Anyway, behind the (great) Ernie Colon cover, what do we get? A boring melange of a generic Marvel(ish) book and the Death Wish movies. And enough violence and cleavage to wonder if the Comic Code was paying attention to the new kid on the block.
We start on page 1, as a sexy nurse is assaulted by two hippie/biker-looking goombas, just because, apparently.
Wait a minute: run that line by me again!
Their bikes were "demolished in the war"?!?! What war?!? What, were they in the Hell's Angels Brigade in 'Nam? What war? How? And what of their brother in the body cast, who's never mentioned again?!?! Uh....head exploding...
Fortunately, our hero makes his first appearance, ready to save the damsel from the bikers with purple hearts (for their bikes):
Now on this page, and only this one, the colorist or printer screwed up, and forgot to color in the blue for the tights covering Tiger-Man's arms and legs. So in our hero's very first appearance, he's colored wrong. Which results in a disturbing image:
But he does manage to stop the cads, although a bit violently for these pre-Wolverine days:
Note the decidedly over-the-line violence (and killing? they're very vague, probably intentionally) and the "Holy God!" exclamation. Code anyone? Meanwhile, our naughty nurse flashes some cleavage and first states the meme that will inform our hero's journey:
Yup, New York is Hell.
So who is Tiger-Man? Well, young doctor Lannie Hill (so incompetent is our flashbackery, that we don't find his surname until 2 pages into the flashback, and his first name until 5 pages into his origin) is interning in "African Zambia." He becomes fascinated by "the survival instinct of the inhabitants of this region" (it seems that animals in our continent just lay down and die, or something). So how does he pursue this field of inquiry?
(Yes, go ahead, insert Monty Python joke here...get it out of your system).
Ignore how or why a man-killing Indian tiger is still alive and hanging around Zambia. Instead, ponder that, somehow, studying a predator from India is supposed to tell Dr. Hill about the survival instinct of African prey. This is making DC science look good...
Of course, he takes it himself...duh. And, remember, when you're a scientist:
Yup, why worry about what effects might be? Why, that would be actual science!! The result:
Again, duh. Anyway, he returns home to New York City, where his sister is an actress in a hit Broadway show!! Which somehow leads to this:
Yup, two rogue rodeo folk (?) who decide to take in a Broadway show (??), decide the actress must be rich (???), find out where she lives (????), break in, and kill her (and maybe rape her, too...).
So of course, Lannie uses his tiger powers to track them down, and once again lays down the verdict on what life in NYC is like:
You object to "mugging" before "murdering?" And isn't "stealing" redundant after "mugging?"
The final fate of our scum? Well, here's another reason why it's hard to believe that this is a 1975 Code approved book:
All we're missing is the "Snikt."
So what's the verdict on Tiger-Man? Exploitative crap, or prescient vision of what the comics industry was heading to? Gabe Levy and Ernie Colon, what were you thinking about while creating this? (Note: in one of those Atlas shifts discussed above, Gerry Conway and Steve Ditko took over the mag for issues 2 & 3, and considerably lightened the tone to something more Marvel-like).
And when is someone going to snap up the rights to some of the Atlas characters, and incorporate them into, say, the DC universe? And when will someone tell me whether or not his name should be hyphenated!?!?!?!
On a final note, after Atlas/Seaboard dumped their comics line, Chip Goodman stayed with Seaboard as publisher of the...ahem...adult magazine Swank for several years. I've always wanted to legitimately mention Swank in a comics post, and here's my chance.
Much of my discussion of Atlas' history is indebted to The Atlas Archives website...check it out for an in-depth look at a much-forgotten period of modern comics history!
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Wow, I can own 12-minute versions of the Ape movies...for only $7.95 each?!?! Sign me up!! Let's have a monkey party!!
Hey, wait a moment:
Didn't they discover that shocking secret at the end of the FIRST movie, not the FIFTH?! Here, I can prove it:
Back to you, Dr. K...
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
MightyGodKing had an interesting post discussing some people's views on whether Doctor Strange needs to be "saved," that is, a) is he too powerful, b) how do you write
a "magic" character in today's comic idiom?
Well, my problem (and not just with Strange, but with most comic magicians) has always been the inherent lack of rules the creators seem to give us.
With the "physical" superheroes, the creators lay down rules and limits and guidelines. We know what a character is capable of, and if suddenly those rules are transgressed without reason or explanation, we bitch and send in for No-Prizes.
Take, for example, Superman. We know he's vulnerable to kryptonite. We know that lead can block kryptonite radiation. These rules have been laid out for us, so when something profoundly silly like this happens, well, we can chide it for being stupid or scientifically questionable, but it cannot be said that they weren't playing by the rules.
But the magic of comic magicians too often comes across as mystical technobabble, made up on the spot to make the story work the way the writer wants it to. The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak? Well, sometimes they can hold things, sometimes they can't, sometimes they can be broken, sometimes they can't. The rules? Who knows? When all the DC mystics were running around saying "the rules of magic have all been re-written" post post-Infinite Crisis, my reaction was, "There were rules?"
Part of this, obviously, just comes down to a matter of taste in types of story, and modes of storytelling. But me, I like it when I know what a character's limits are. I like knowing that Spider-Man can lift a car, but not a building, and that won't suddenly change next issue (unless Captain Universe is involved...) . But let me present a Socratic dialogue, by 8 year-old me with my 8 year-old cousin, to show my opinion of what far too much comic book magic is like:
Me: Well, I'd zap you with my super-force rays!
Cousin: Uh-uh, because my mega-force field is immune to your super-force rays, and they just bounce off!!
Me: Well, these are super-duper-force rays that are invisible to your force field, and break right through it!!
Cousin: But my costume absorbs those rays, and power up my brain beam, and I blast you!!
Me: Uh uh, because...ad infinitum.
As you can see, we were making it up as we went along. Fortunately, most of us outgrew this when it came to our superheroes: we began to expect rules and limits, not randomness and crazy ad hoc one-upsmanship. But for some reason, we never demanded the same of Doctor Strange, or Zatanna, or Doctor Fate. We just accepted that "magic can do whatever it needs to do for this story, and has no relation to what it could do in any previous or future story." Which, all too often, was an excuse for lazy story-telling.
Don't get me wrong: I own boatloads of Strange and Fate, and have mostly enjoyed them. But for me, that enjoyment has always been a teensy bit tempered by my frustration at the genre's inability (or unwillingness) to sit down and map a system, a logic.
Maybe it's just my anal personality...and maybe I'm asking for something that can't be done. I'll still read, just as I'll still watch Star Trek even when this week's warp crisis is solved by yet another made-up radiation or particle field that was conveniently never mentioned before but just as conveniently exactly solves this week's problem. But I'll still call "Cheat!!" on it.
So if anyone wants to "fix" Doctor Strange, or if Keith Giffen wants to lay down the "new" laws of magic in Reign in Hell, start at the beginning. Give us some rules, dudes. Enough with the cheating.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
Well, let's keep the name of his opponent secret for a couple of minutes, OK?
Anyhoo, a dangerous ninja assassin has come to Mega-City, and he's not someone to be trifled with:
And he might be more than Dredd can handle:
That's face kick number 1.
Oh, Dredd will get a lick or two in:
But he's outclassed:
That's face kick #2! And the night gets still worse for Dredd:
Yup, that's face kick #3 AND #4, for those keeping track (and for Chris Sims).
The end result of our battle? Something you rarely see: Dredd f#$%d up:
But who was this mysterious opponent?
Oh, no you didn't!?! Judge Dredd was pasteurized by....? Yup: check out the cover, True Believers:
Yup, Stan Lee just kicked the living s#$% out of Dredd. That's what happens when you cross Smilin' Stan...he brings the PAIN!!!
Bahlactus also brings da pain, but man, not even he could beat down Dredd like that...or could he??
Lo, when titans clash, it occurs in Quality's Judge Dredd #26, 1989...the cover is by Jumpin' Jackson Guice, and the interior art by Boisterous Barry Kitson!! Excelsior!!!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Yes, back in 1998, DC was helping us "celebrate the century" by having the JLA (plus Robin!) star in the "Super Heroes Stamp Album." Look, I'll let the heroes explain the premise to you:
This oddity, a co-production of DC and the U.S. Postal Service (and scripted by Doug Meonch!!), was an effort to teach kids history through combining the two nerdiest pastimes ever: comic collecting and stamp collecting. Apparently the goal was the consolidate the bullies' schedules so they can beat up two nerd groups for the price of one...
Anyway, there were ten volumes, one for each decade. This one dealt with the nineteen-aughts. Through one or two page vignettes, the heroes educated us on various aspects of the history of the decade, each of which just happened to have a stamp representing it, too. Superman taught us about Teddy Roosevelt, Batman covers the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, Robin elucidates the birth of Crayola Crayons, Wonder Woman tells us about the St. Louis World's Fair...15 lessons in all...each with original art and writing.
But in the centerfold, we have a 2-page ad to buy all the stamps and albums from the Post Office. And for some reason, rather than new art, they just re-used stock poses of the heroes, holding stamps. Here's Aquaman, for example:
The best one, though, is the completely inappropriate Batman picture they use:
Lessons from this picture:
A) Batman does NOT want you, punk!
B) Batman is pissed at the Freedom Fighters.
C) Buy these stamps or else, kids!!
D) Have some lemonade, Hal.
E) Get your goddamn hands off my goddamn stamps, or I'll goddamn rip out your goddamn spleen, dammit!
Seriously, is making kids wet themselves a good way to sell stamps??
Bonus attraction--from the back cover:
Because if there's anything that says hip and cool, it's the U.S. Postal Service!! Let...the sun shine! Let...the sunshine in...
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
A new Justice League comic...called merely Justice League...written by James Robinson...starring as team members:
- Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
- Green Arrow
- Ray Palmer (but NOT as the Atom!!)
- Batwoman (!!)
- Freddy Freeman ("ideally with the blue costume and a new name")
- Starman--Mikkal Tomas, the blue alien one
Well, you had me at James Robinson, but man, Congorilla sealed the deal!! What a potentially insanely fun team, eh? A couple of thoughts:
*Ray Palmer, but not as the Atom. A former shrinking hero who had intense marriage problems and then rejoins a spin-off of his original team but in his civilian identity and without shrinkage...nahh, I've never heard that one before... cough, cough, yellowjacket, cough cough
*From Robinson: "“It had long bothered me that the Avengers had never really ‘avenged’ anything – they’re either stopping a crime, or are under attack, which means that the name ‘The Defenders’ would’ve been better suited for them. Or The Crime Stoppers."
Damn, you know he's right...
* Again from Robinson, on the book's set-up: "That event? A murder...Hal is outraged and wants to immediately go after the villain and get justice for the fallen hero..."
Uh, James, remember what happened the last time Hal went off half-cocked to avenge some murders? I'm not saying he's gonna go psycho again, but a part of Parallax is still in his lantern, and, well...everybody hide.
*Freedy Freeman with a new name and back in blue? So, what, the whole Trials of Shazam mini-series is already moot? Does that mean Billy Batson will go back to being Captain Marvel?
Anyway, it's time for the "think up a new superhero name for Freddy Freeman" contest. My first official entry: Young Miracleman!! Oh, what, that's still tied up..?
*Supergirl and Batwoman? Let the fanfic begin...
But seriously, I'm really looking forward to this. Let's hope DC editorial doesn't butt in and make him write back-up stories while some hack does Salvation Run tie-ins in the front half. Earth to Dwayne McDuffie: for this you gave up Fantastic Four???
"Brian’s already let me read the first three issues of SECRET INVASION...Bendis basically worked out a remorseless, nothing-but-business tearing down of the Marvel Universe."
Val suggests that "This confirms what I suspected about Secret Invasion, that it would be a bit of a scorched-earth ass-kicker that would truly shake up the Marvel Universe. Of course, having not read the book myself, this sort of confirms nothing."
Yeah, because that sorta thing worked out so well with Avengers Disassembled...the last "scorched-earth ass kicker that would truly shake up the Marvel Universe" killed Hawkeye (oh, wait, Bendis brought him back), killed the Vision (oh, wait, he's back, too), saw Thor killed in Ragnarok in his own mag (oh, wait, he's back, too), killed C-listers Jack of Hearts and Ant Man (oh, the humanity). And Tony Stark said he was too broke to rebuild the team and mansion. But despite the "trauma", Tony rebuilt the team and headquarters (huh?), and most of the A-listers re-formed the New or Mighty Avengers about 5 minutes later (along with most of Bendis' favorite characters..so, really, Disassembled wasn't a ploy to empty out the Avengers so he could keep writing about Jessica Jones and Echo and Luke Cage...).
So, despite all the breathy adjectives from the star of Down Periscope , Taxi, Starsky and Hutch, and Balls of Fury, I expect the long lasting repercussions on the Marvel Universe will be largely the same: a couple of minor characters offed, a couple of majors seemingly offed but revived within a couple of months, and back to the status quo by morning, with everyone's dialogue indistinguishable from Spider-Man's.
Prove me wrong, Bendis.
Monday, March 17, 2008
To those of you who aren't into it (yet!!), the Smash Brothers franchise is Nintendo's way-crazy crossover fighting game, featuring characters from their many franchises planting kick in each others' faces.
But the latest incarnation, for the Wii, ups the ante, by featuring a couple of characters from other companies big franchises: Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series.
Which makes me wonder this:
- We can have comic book crossovers
- We can have video came characters cross over in Smash Brothers
- We can have superheroes do crossovers in video game franchises
Oh, and Nintendo? I want Mario vs. Wolverine in the next Smash Brothers. Make it so.