Friday, December 11, 2009

The Wash: 12/11/09

o Marc Guggenheim will replace Greg Rucka as the writer of Action Comics next year, evidently before the "War of the Supermen" crossover gets underway.

Initial reaction: Good. Now hopefully DC will stop draining the living life out of Rucka and let him tell stories that don't require conferences with the rest of the committee. Because, honestly, he's rather better at those.

(Disclaimer: I actually liked 52. Rucka's first issue of Action Comics, though, convinced me once again that I'm much too young for half the crap DC keeps churning out.)

More reflected reaction: Good. Now hopefully Rucka will devote more time to stuff like Stumptown, Detective Comics and, who knows, maybe some more Tara Chace and Carrie Stetko.

o talked to Marvel publisher Dan Buckley, who, for better or ill, has still got those priorities straight.

The most important business to us, and I say this every year in this interview, is our hobby retail business. It’s where our fans reside, it’s where our most loyal retailers reside. And whatever we do in the digital space is being developed and designed in a way that helps us build more print business and hopefully drives people to stores.

So, if you believe this, the working order at Marvel is to use digital distribution as a means to generate more print distribution, by which they mean "comics specialty stores" first and foremost.

I think it's lip service, personally.

The North American comics market is in an odd place right now—the same odd place it's been in for years, by the way—where it can't live on comic books alone anymore, but can't afford to piss off the comic-book retailers, either. The result are statements like the above, which try to suggest, kicking and screaming, that focusing on comic-book stores is somehow still a viable long-term strategy when it's obvious that it's going to be a considerably less significant segment of the market very soon.

Is the direct-sales market the most important one to Marvel and DC in terms of sales and making money? Yes.

Is the direct-sales market the most important one to Marvel and DC in terms of making sure that they will still be in business as publishing houses in 2015? Not by a long shot, I expect.

In part two, Buckley addresses the prevailing trend in North American comic books of the last five years, which has been to produce the kind of sweeping, never-ending, line-wide, crossover storylines that made comics radioactive for everybody but hardcore comic-book fans in the 1980s and 1990s:

We’re trying to kind of cleanse the palate a little bit. I’m not saying that we’ll never do a line-wide crossover again. I just think the consumers, the retailers, our creators, our editors all need to breathe a little bit and tell some stories that they want to tell amongst themselves or by themselves. Hopefully that’s something that will excite the creative community. We still have to market it and package it in a way that people can understand it and get excited about it. I’m very excited about that approach, with lending the creators a little bit more time to chew amongst themselves. 

Note the key concern here: Buckley hopes that a renewed focus on individual titles will "excite the creative community." He wants to give creators the chance "to breathe a little bit and tell some stories that they want to tell amongst themselves or by themselves."

So, basically, like they did between 1998 and 2004, first at Marvel Knights and then when Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada began to produce quality content at Marvel proper again. I take it that "the creative community" hasn't been terribly excited of late with the environment at Marvel.

But at least they recognize the problem. Better late than never—by which I mean DC, of course.

Oh, and if I'm not seriously misinterpreting this, Buckley lets slip that Matt Fraction is the new Thor writer:

I’ve read what Fraction wants to do with Thor and it’s really cool stuff by itself.

Well, if it's the Matt Fraction who's writing Invincible Iron Man, that's good. If it's the Matt Fraction who's writing Uncanny X-Men, though, I don't think there's going to be a pressing demand for more Matt Fraction comics before long.

Where's Casanova?

o Speaking of the Jemas/Quesada days, I stumbled over this Newsarama piece from February 2008 a couple of days back. It's a piece written by former Vertigo and Marvel editor Stuart Moore, remembering writer Steve Gerber, who'd just died.

Moore's anecdotes about discovering Gerber's work and about getting to work with Gerber on the Howard the Duck miniseries released under Marvel's Max label in 2002 are well worth a look, but there's something else that caught my eye:

That first year or so at the Quesada/Jemas Marvel, we could do anything. Peter Milligan and Mike Allred could reimagine X-Force as a post-post-postmodern media satire; Luke Cage and Jessica Jones could perform acts that would get them tossed right out of the Avengers—even the underground team. Garth Ennis could create an adversary for Nick Fury called Fuckface. (Try looking him up in the Official Handbook.)

Ah, the good old days, when Marvel made comics like Truth: Red, White & Black, The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man and Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules, and Brian Michael Bendis had more fun creating comics than cashing a paycheck. Alas.

o Graeme McMillan continues his look at Chris Claremont's initial run on The Uncanny X-Men, this time issues #149 through #172—the second Dave Cockrum era, basically, with Paul Smith coming in towards the end.

McMillan makes a good point about the style clash between the "Cockrum Mark II" period and Smith's arrival. Personally, I much preferred Smith at the time, and I recall that the "emptiness" of Cockrum's work, as McMillan calls it, frequently put me off. I'll have to go back and revisit this stuff sometime to see how they hold up for me.

I didn't get to read those comics until more than ten years after their initial publication, and when I read them, it was in a horribly shrunken format and in a terrible German translation. (The history of German X-Men reprints is a fascinating narrative of its own, involving five major publishers, long periods of complete absence and, to this day, I think, the perpetual threat of cancellation.)

These stories about mind-swaps and the Brood and so on have never been my favorite X-Men comics by a long shot, but even so, they were among the first that I got hold of, and, even in the butchered form they appeared in my country, they contributed their share in making me follow the franchise for more than ten years after.

I suppose that says something about how well the creators managed to endear me to the characters and their world, even while I wasn't terribly fond of the stories they happened to be telling at that juncture.

o I reviewed Invincible Iron Man #20 and S.W.O.R.D. #1 this week, and there's going to be a new review of Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth #1 before Monday.

(If the reviews I'll be posting over the next few weeks are almost uniformly positive, by the way, that won't just be due to my getting all merry and stuff. I'm actually gearing up and rummaging through the stacks of books for the "New Comic Books I Liked in 2009" list that should be coming up a few days before or after New Year's Eve, so those are mostly—though not exclusively—books that I think are actually pretty good.)


Joseph said...

I agree with you as far as missing the apparent "anything goes" attitude of the early Quesada/Jemas time at Marvel, but I think you're out of line stating Bendis is a writer who is currently only interested in cashing a paycheck. Yes, I remain a fan of his work, but regardless I thought that comment crossed the line from snark to a personal attack. Whether you are a fan of his writing or not, I don't see anything to indicate he is having any less fun now than he was when Ultimate Spider-Man or Powers #1 came out.

Marc-Oliver said...


"I think you're out of line stating Bendis is a writer who is currently only interested in cashing a paycheck."

That's not what I said.

Since 2004, Bendis has been producing an increasing number of Avengers comics per month. At the same time, POWERS continued to come out ever more rarely and even stopped altogether for more than a year. And Bendis hasn't created a new comic of his own in more than TEN years, at his stage.

To say that Bendis is preferring a steady paycheck to creating new, original work right now is not a personal attack. It's fact.

(I don't begrudge him the success, by the way. If Bendis happy doing what he does, more power to him, and the best of luck. But the work he puts out is still fair game for criticism -- and my criticism of his work is, basically, that it reads precisely like the work of someone who turns in four Avengers comics a month and has nothing left to prove.)

Joseph said...

Fair enough. But you did say that Brian is currently having more fun cashing his check than actually writing the comics, which is not exactly how I interpreted it in my original post, but is also not really the same as saying he is "preferring a steady paycheck to creating new, original work right now". I guess my point was that from all I have read and heard of Brian lately he has just as much fun writing Avengers and USM as he does Powers or anything else, and I think it still shows in his work.

Regardless, I'm loving that you are posting so much more frequently. Is this due to just a fortunate combination of free time/energy on your part or is it your intent to update the blog more consistently?

Marc-Oliver said...


You're right: I don't want to backpedal on my initial comment, which I guess largely comes from my impression of Bendis' Marvel work, and the Avengers-related stuff in particular.

For all I know, Bendis has the time of his life writing those books -- I just don't think it particularly shows in the published work. (To be fair, I think the last Bendis comic I read was DARK AVENGERS #1, so maybe I ought to check back on how he's doing.)

As for why the blog's been getting busier again: If I knew, I'd do it more often. Maybe it's that, with the end of the year drawing nearer, I want to purge my head of all the stuff that I keep wanting to talk about but never do.