Tag Archives: dc comics

September TV and comics

Super quick update. The new NEW book is ready to go out to publishers. It doesn’t need another edit. YAY! And that’s where it is right now. With them. So I’m just waiting, which is the hardest thing to do, when all you really want to do is refresh your email every 3 seconds. Thankfully I’m pretty busy with some other secret projects so I’m not dwelling. Well, not too much.

The Good

Justified. This is a non-genre show. It’s about Timothy Olyphant playing a US Marshall, and it’s based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. He’s kind of a modern day cowboy who is forced to go back to his home state of Kentucky and he starts rubbing shoulders with old friends, old enemies and members of his family he’d rather not reconnect with. It’s funny, dramatic, heartwarming, disturbing and just a lot of damn good fun. I’m still not sure why I didn’t watch it back in the day when it was on. I think in my mind it was more like The Shield and I wasn’t in the mood for something so brutal and dirty, so I avoided it. It’s also only 13 episodes a season, which I can do. I’d struggle these days with a 20+ commitment on a series. Great fun, awesome twisty worldbuilding, complex characters with fully fleshed out lives, friends, families and enemies and it’s all one weird incestuous tangle where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business in the small community of Harlan county. Great stuff and well worth a watch.

The Bad

Another Life. This is a new SF show on Netflix starring the excellent Katie Sackhoff. The cast has a few familiar faces and they are all pretty good. That’s about all I can say that’s positive about this show. The Nightflyer is basically, and in many ways, the same show. Aliens make contact. We send out a ship to find out what’s going on. Cue wacky adventures, weird dreams, murder and mayhem. That’s both shows. Only this time around there’s a lot more shouting, bitching and acting like horny teenagers rather than, I don’t know, qualified astronauts. Yes, conflict makes drama more interesting but this was so painful to watch I was embarrassed for the actors. If it gets a second season I won’t be watching.

The Comics

52 from DC comics. 52 is an important number at DC comics for a few reasons. At one point it was the number of titles they were putting out in a month when all titles reset to issue 1. I know, right? Anyway, there are also 52 worlds in their multiverse, Earth 1 to 52, with slightly different versions of their heroes and villains. However, on this occasion, 52 refers to the weekly comic book series they published in 2006. Four writers (Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns) worked together with a number of artists and editors, to put out one comic book a week for a whole year. That’s one big huge story, featuring lots of characters from across the DC universe, for 52 week straight. It was a massive undertaking that had not been done before and has not been tried since.

It was a nightmare of logistics, there were bumps and mistakes along the way, but ultimately they did it. I didn’t read it at the time because it was too expensive, but today, thanks to the joys of comics deals I picked up the whole thing for a great price. Also, as a digital version, storing the 52 weekly comics is a lot easier. I’m taking my time, soaking it all in, and I’m about halfway through at the moment. It’s a fascinating story and a remarkable experiment that explores some remote corners of the DC universe. They pull all sorts of obscure characters out of the cupboard that we’ve not seen for years and take other known characters in new directions. It’s a big love letter to DC comics and given that I was raised on DC comics and they were my first love, I’m in my happy place.

More news on the book stuff when I can share it. What have you been watching? Anything good?

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Suicide Squad Review

This review has spoilers, small and large. You were warned.

I’m writing this a few hours after having seen the film, so that it is still fresh, but I’m probably not going to post it for a while. This is so that I can come back to it and add anything I’ve missed in my haste.

My last three cinema trips have been to see Tarzan, Star Trek Beyond and then Suicide Squad. Much to my surprise I would have to say that I enjoyed SS the most out of the three.

The film isn’t perfect but overall it’s a lot of fun. I’m a lifelong DC comics fan so I know this comic and I know the characters. Visually the film is stunning, it’s epic in scope, the colour tone is perfect and how all of the characters look is amazing.

Some of the characters get a lot more screen time than others, but that is to be expected in a film with such a large cast. That is probably one of its main weaknesses. I think all of the characters are interesting, and done well by the actors, but some of them had so little screen time they felt superfluous at times. They were there to fill out the numbers and look cool, but didn’t do a lot.

Will Smith was great as Deadshot. I was afraid the film would become a vehicle for Will Smith and he would takeover, but this was an ensemble film. He brought heart to the character and made you sympathise with him, despite what he’s done.

Margot Robbie. Utterly amazing in the role. She stole every scene. She was mesmerising and this might sound weird to say, but I forgot it was Margot Robbie. In every film with Tom Cruise, I can see Tom Cruise playing a character. The best actors, in my opinion, disappear into the role so you forget you’re watching them. Tom Hanks is perfect at doing this because he is kind of an everyman in terms of his looks (sorry, Tom!), not that he’ll ever read this. Robbie was Harley, body and soul. She was just enough over the top without it being a caricature. She had lots to do in the film and she was great.

Jay Hernandez was Diablo and there again, a cracking performance. You really felt for this horrible, tattooed, vicious gang-banger, who has gone from a life of crime and violence to one where he’s almost a pacifist and doesn’t want to hurt anyone else with his gift, or curse. There were some great scenes, and oddly, hints at other bits we’ve seen in the trailers that were cut from the final film. Nevertheless, lots of good stuff.

The others, hmm. Captain Boomerang brought some comedy, had some great one liners, was pretty clear cut and you knew what you were getting. He had one very interesting line of dialogue that I won’t spoil, but it showed he’s a bit more astute than the loud idiot he seems to be. Katana was fine and the actress was great, but she didn’t have a lot to do. Same with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who played Killer Croc. You might know him as Mr Eko from Lost and other stuff, but here he was unrecognisable with all the prosthetics and big teeth. The character of Waylon Jones is one worth exploring, but there was so little for AAA to do. He stood around a lot, looked mean, had a couple of lines (when I could understand  him through the big teeth) and smiled a lot. I think they just ran out of time.  You could have lost Katana, trimmed the love story with Flagg and June a bit and given more screen time to AA and Hernandez as Diablo.

Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was fantastic. She embodied the utterly terrifying, ruthless and relentless Wall. This is someone without superpowers who had faced down the Batman and got him to back off. In some ways she is far worse than all of the Squad put together and we see this in the film. The creator of the character, John Ostrander, gave his view of the film and the character over on his column over at Comic Mix.

Ok, so I’ve touched on some of the good, here’s the bad. As I’ve said the film has too many people on it, so some of them stand around to fill the screen and don’t do a lot. Jared Leto’s Joker is different, which is good, but it is so over the top it’s almost a parody of someone playing the Joker. I should be terrified every time the Joker comes into a room. People should freak out and freeze like deer in the headlights as he is utterly unpredictable and he scares even the most hardcore criminal. They tried to do this, but personally I wasn’t that convinced by his performance.

The film also suffered from a bit of the dumbed-down idiot syndrome. There was a fair bit of repetition, hammering the point home, then getting a drill and driving it even further into your skull. We know that they are bad guys. They tell you and show you, with an intro on each at the start and their crimes, then later  Will Smith’s character says things like ‘We’re the bad guys’, well, duh! We (the audience) know and everyone other character in the room in the scene knows, so who was his character talking to?

Early in the film it is implied what happened to Diablo’s family and the aftermath was shown, then they revisited it and showed us more detail, and then they still had a character ask the question about what happened and another answer it. Really. They went that far at times. It’s like using a sledgehammer to drive a tack into a wall to put up a picture. We get it!!!!

They also had some characters spout some lines simply because they sounded cool, and didn’t really add anything. Like Harley stealing a handbag and saying ‘We’re bad guys, it’s what we do’. A fun aside, an amusing bit, but incredibly dumb dialogue. Or Deadshot toasts everyone in a bar and says ‘To Honour Among Thieves’ and Katana objects, saying she is not a thief. This is true, but then again Deadshot, Diablo, Crock and Harley are also not thieves. The only thief is Captain Boomerang. The rest are assassins, murderers and sociopaths.

So, I know the director, and others in the past, have said the theatre release is their cut, however, I hope there is a director’s cut of this film. I’d like more of the small moments that have been hinted at and shown in the trailers. The action is great and all of that, but to really make us care about the characters, it would be great to see more of their interplay and bonding.

Overall, it was a fun film and I had a fun time at the cinema, far more fun than my previous two trips. I felt something for the characters, I cared about their well being and I would be interested in seeing them in another outing in the future. From the way the box office is looking, it might happen too in a few years time.

 

 

 

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Comics are a medium not a genre

I thought this post was apt as Saturday 3rd May is Free Comic Book Day. A date where shops order a quantity of special comics which they then give away free. It generates a lot of business for them and it attracts a lot of people, some of whom will hopefully be new readers. So if you’ve not tried comics before, now is the time to try.  Also if you’re not convinced about comics, keep reading.

Comics are a medium not a genre. I’ve said it many times already and no doubt I will continue to say it many more times in the future. For those who don’t read comics, for those who’ve only become aware of them via other media, in particular films, it can seem like comics are just superheroes. But it’s worth repeating, comics are a medium, not a genre.

During the last fifteen years or so, comic book movies have gone from those that don’t appear to be based on comic books at all, such as Blade, Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, The Losers, RED, right up to billion dollar box office smash hits with larger than life characters in bright costumes, like The Avengers, Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the X-Men franchise. It’s a wonderful and amazing time to be a comic book fan as now we can enjoy seeing these characters all over the world, and watch as people discover them for the first time. The films might even attract a few new readers to the comic book medium, but sometimes there’s still that moment of surprise that comics are more than superheroes.

If you walk into a bookshop, a Waterstones in the UK, or Barnes and Noble in the USA, you wouldn’t expect every title on the shelf to just be crime, or history books, or biographies. It’s exactly the same with comics. For every single genre you can think of, and many you’ve probably never considered before as they mash-up different elements, there is a comic book. Superheroes dominate the US and UK comic book market, and I have a theory about why this is which I will come back to, but in other countries superheroes are seen as just one of many genres, not the main focus.

Comics are an important medium. There, I said it. Over the years I’ve heard many stories of how children first learned to read with comics and how it helped create a love of stories and reading in general. That has to be something that is cherished and encouraged. We all start out with picture books as very small children with only a few words, which then progresses to fiction and non-fiction for school work. But comics are not a poor man’s novel, it is a unique medium which I’ll address in a bit.

Comics can and have been used to tell some of the most important stories in modern history. Art Spiegelman chronicled the experiences of his father, a Polish Jew, during the Holocaust and his life at Auschwitz. It is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read and in 1992 it was the first comic book to win a Pulitzer Prize. Yes, THE Pulitzer Prize for an outstanding work of journalism or literature. Only last year Top Shelf Comics published March, a graphic novel memoir about US Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis who has been fighting for equality for over 50 years. March includes his memories of the Civil Rights Movement, including the 1963 March on Washington, and it is his first-hand account of the struggles over the years. It is an important piece of literature that just happens to be in comic book form.

Of course comics don’t have to be about heavy subjects. They can be light fun, entertaining, humorous, silly and entertaining. From coming of age stories, to romance, to horror, to westerns to crime to science fiction and fantasy. I grew up reading superhero comics, but now I read all sorts, such as Saga, an intergalactic space adventure, reminiscent in some ways of Star Wars, or Sixth Gun, a pulpy horror western, or Grandville, an anthropomorphic steampunk crime adventure series. I still read and enjoy superheroes, but like any other medium I don’t just stick to one genre. The possibilities with comics are endless.

Comics are also a unique medium. They’ve existed in one form or another for thousands of years and a creative team on a comic book (writer, penciller, inker, colourist, letterer) can create stories in such a way that it can’t be done in the same way in any other medium. Scott McLeod is a cartoonist and comic book theorist who has written several non-fiction graphic novels about this that detail different aspects of comics, from their ancient history to their rapid evolution. He breaks down and explains some of the elements that make comics unique and a remarkable medium. Understanding Comics is the first of his books and the best place to start if you’re interested, then he moved on to Reinventing Comics which looked at how much comics had changed since he first started writing Understanding Comics. The medium is also constantly evolving and being reimagined by creative people who even now do things on the page that I’ve never seen before.

Going back in time a little, and focusing on the American market, comic books in multiple genres used to be common. During the 1970s, Marvel published among other things horror, western, war, martial arts, and humour comics. These days both Marvel and DC, the two biggest publishers in the US market are synonymous with superhero comics. They do a little in other genres, but superheroes are their bread and butter. They feed into all of the other areas, from film and TV to computer games, merchandise, toys and even clothing. But it all comes back to those iconic heroes. So why are we still obsessed with them?

I have a theory, and it’s not an original one, so I’m not claiming I came up with it first, but of the many ideas I’ve heard it seems the most plausible to me. Superhero comic books are the equivalent of modern myths and legends. I grew up reading the likes of Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, Greek and Roman myths and legends, folk tales from all around the world in fact, and these parables and mythological stories are being replicated in comics. They are the ongoing adventures of larger than life characters. Some superhero characters are direct figures from mythology in modern day, such as Thor and Hercules, some are obvious analogues such as The Flash as Mercury, Aquaman as Poseidon. Some are not as clear cut and they represent ideals such as Hope, Justice and Equality, but these basic principles, wrapped up in an interesting character never go out of fashion. There are other reasons we love superheroes, but I believe this is a key element.

I realise that getting into comics can be difficult and intimidating. But this weekend is the perfect opportunity to try if you’ve not done so before. If you have a local comic shop go along and talk to the person behind the counter. Tell them the kind of genres that interest you, the type of stories you like, even the type of TV shows and books you read. They’ll be able to point you in the direction of a few different places to start. Getting into superhero comics can be difficult, with over 75 years of character history in some cases, but there again they can give you some good jumping on points. If you don’t have a local shop, then I’m happy to make suggestions myself. So tell me what kind of stories you enjoy, in any medium, and I’ll try to pair you up with some comics to suit your interests. There’s a lot going on in comics and if you’re reading them then you are missing out on some amazing stories.

 

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Coming About

The comics market is changing. That’s not news, it’s always changing and adapting. However what is perhaps news to some and is becoming more and more obvious to me, is that the Big2 publishers, Marvel and DC, are no longer the Final Destination for creators, probably writers more so than artists.

For years, breaking in (in my mind at least) meant doing some indy work, self publishing, doing enough work of some sort to get noticed so that someone further up the food chain said hey, let’s give this guy a one shot on Spider-Man Team Up, and see how he does on a Batman tie-in book. If it flies and sell well, then they give the writer or artist a bit more work until they develop into a named Talent. People start referring to the book as Johnny NewGuy’s Spider-Man or NewGuy’s Batman. At which point they’ve made it. Roll credits.

In the last, probably ten years or so, there’s been a shift. Talent, to one degree or another, has always done creator owned work alongside their work for hire gigs. Exclusive contracts used to be par for the course, now they’re rare. Working for one of the Big2 doesn’t guarantee X number of books per month anymore and therefore a steady income. Creators write for 3 or 4 or even 5 different publishers each month, to create a steady income which enables them to write comics full time.

A few years ago (before the Walking Dead was THE WALKING DEAD) and long before Robert Kirkman was known well outside the comics industry, he tried to inspire other comic creators to follow in his wake with a video, where his call to arms was mostly mocked or ignored. He tried to explain that the industry was changing, and that if you worked for the Big2 for the rest of your life, at the end of the day you’d be left with nothing. No creator rights to the characters, because it’s work for hire, so no pension of any kind and there’s no union for creators. No payouts if anyone adapts your character for another medium, which was also on the rise at the time.

He suggested that while you are in the spotlight and you do have an enthusiastic fan base and are a known named Talent, create something original that you will own 100%. Some in the industry listened, some said we’re already doing it, some just couldn’t take the risk of stepping away from a regular monthly salary to jump into the abyss and hope that the idea of a bungee cord became a reality before they hit the financial rock bottom. People have to pay the bills, put food on the table so there’s no blame being thrown around.

Another shift came, maybe five years ago, whereby the number of well known Talent, doing creator owned work alongside their Big2 was steadily increasing. For many reasons I don’t know, and a few that were discussed  at length in public, several well known creators walked away from the Big2. Some went into other industries, some self published, some produced comics via Kickstarter and creator owned books with other publishers, some worked for smaller publishers and the scales started to tip.

If they don’t already, then in a couple of months Image comics will have 10% of the monthly comics market. A few years ago, that 10% comprised of all of the independent comic book companies. In ten years I wonder what the landscape will look like and right now I suspect the split will be much more even three ways between the Big2 and all of the other publishers combined.

Now, more and more of these known creators, the Talent, with loyal fans are producing some of the most innovative and interesting comics in the industry. There are no IP rights to exploit, no shareholders to pacify, no limits. Now while the monthly sales figures for most of these creator owned titles are nowhere near those of the Big2, that is changing too. Saga was just outside of the top 20 sales figures for August 2013, and The Walking Dead was at number 12. However, the money the creators are receiving is still very healthy, because their slice of the pie is much bigger and there are fewer mouths to feed.

Just to clarify, the Big2 are not evil corporations. They’re not destroying the comics industry. They’re businesses with well known icons and IP, and they want to make money and tell stories. They want to promote their brands to as many people as they can across as many mediums as they can, be it TV, film, animation, merchandise or comics. Working for them is not working for the Dark Side, but now it’s not the end of the story, it’s just another step on the road. Creators who do work for them should be totally aware that anything they create does not belong to them. So if they want something that is completely their own, there are many opportunities and different avenues out there. You can have your cake and eat it. In fact, now is exactly the right time to do that.

New York Comic Con is running as we speak, and while the Big2 are coming out with lots of announcements, I’ve found I’m actually more interested in the creator owned series and independent work from the well known Talent because I have no idea of what they might do and where they might go. The deck is definitely shifting beneath my feet.

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Going Digital

Digital comics have been around for a while, but it wasn’t until a couple of years that things started to really get organised. There were various options out there for quite a while, reading comics as PDF documents, reading them in weird web browser versions, all sorts of stuff. Then the rise of tablets started, they became more popular and the price came down a little as many alternatives came out to the leading brand. Then a couple of prominent digital platforms sprang up for comics. Comic companies, keen to explore all new avenues of revenue, developed their own apps for the sale of their comics.

Roughly three years ago a comic rorschach the end is nighcompany tried their first day and date experiment, releasing the digital comic on the same day as the printed copy. The retailers kicked off, announced the physical comic shop was going to die as a result, the industry was doomed and digital comics were to blame. It turned out they were wrong. Digital comics sales didn’t cannibalise physical comics sales, in fact, over time as we saw a proliferation of digital comics, the opposite has happened. Sales of physical comics increased. Digital comics are simply another sales channel, and people are buying more comics as a result, sometimes double dipping (buying digital and then physical trade paperback collections).

Small aside. Mark Millar, isn’t a believer in digital comics. He’s a strong supporter of comic retailers. He thinks digital comics are just for casual fans. I think he’s wrong. He seems to be ignoring the obvious, not everyone has easy access to a comic shop. Not everyone can get physical comics regularly in other countries, and when they can get them, they may be months behind. So they can’t take part in any part of the worldwide comics community without having stories spoilt for them, they can’t read the websites, listen to the podcasts, attend the shows. Digital comics allows fans, anywhere in the world with internet access, the ability to be an active part of the comics community.

Despite being a lifelong comic book fan I know how intimidating comic shops can be to newcomers to the medium, and I’ve spoken about this many times so I won’t labour the point. Digital comics platforms allow an individual to browse as many comics as they want without any pressure to buy, or to be experts on everything straight away. Because there is a bit of that mentality in some comic shops and I hate to see it because it scares away new readers. With digital comics, people can find their own way, dig around, try a few comics and see what they like and don’t, and if they then want to, and feel comfortable enough, will visit their local comic shop. Hopefully. Because there are all sorts of treasures and artefacts in comic shops, like oversized hardback editions, limited edition special prints, rare comic covers by all sorts of artists, absolute editions, signed comics and a tonne of other stuff. Don’t even get me started on the joy of the monthly pull list. There’s also being an active part of your local comic community, attending local meet ups and events and conventions.

DC LogoIn 2011 DC comics rebooted their whole comic book line. Every single monthly comic book was reset and all 52 titles started over with a new number one. To attract new readers, to refresh everything, and to plant a flag in the sand. They also did something else very interesting and bold that no one had ever done before. Every single book was scheduled to be released on a day and date schedule. Again the retailers kicked off, cursed DC, promised not to stock their books, all sorts of stuff. There were discussions and compromises and now digital comics typically cost the same as physical comics for at least the first month, to encourage people to go into their local shop and buy the actual book. After a month or 6 weeks, the price of the digital version drops slightly, because by then, the physical comic is often off the shelves in the shop, so it’s no longer direct competition. A little while later Marvel followed suit and now many, if not all, of their titles are also available in a digital format on release day.

ComiXologyComiXology is now the largest digital comics retailer. They’re the iTunes of digital comics, selling comics from pretty much every large publisher and many smaller publishers. Recently they’ve even opened the doors a little, so really small indy publishers can submit their comics to appear on ComiXology. Other channels for digital comics are still available, but they’re the big dog.

So, that journey has been going on, and I’ve been watching it for the last few years very closely. Now I’m not a gadget guy. I don’t like cars, don’t want the latest phone, don’t care about brands or fashion, it’s just not my thing. I’m definitely not an e-book reader. I love physical books. I understand why ereaders are useful and why some people like ebooks, and again I see them as another channel, but they’re not for me. I had the same attitude to digital comics for a long time too. Then I ended up with a tablet. Essentially I did some work for hire and I received the tablet as payment.

So, I downloaded a few digital comics. There are things I don’t like about digital comics, and I still buy and prefer physical comics, but my initial dislike has now shifted. I sometimes double dip, buy the first couple of issues of a title and if I enjoy it, I will switch to physical trade paperback collections which I buy from my local comic shops. I sometimes buy digital only comics, those crafted for mobile devices. About a year ago I tried an experiment, to read a monthly comic book only in digital format and see what happened. Sadly, through no fault of my own, the experiment ended, as the title I was following ran into trouble and it disappeared after 2 issues.

bat19So now I’m trying the experiment again. Batwing, one of the new 52 monthly comic book titles from DC, recently went through a refresh, with a new pair of writers and a shift in the story. It’s a great jumping on point, I like the writers and artist, so now I’m on board.

I’m going to try and read it on a monthly basis, digitally, and see what the experience is like. Hopefully this title will be around for a while so I will have some time to explore a longer story, but purely from a digital standpoint. I can already see some pros and cons, but I’ll come back to this in a few months and do another post.

As ever, if you’re interested in getting into comics, want to read them but don’t know where to start, then get in touch and I’m always happy to point you to some titles to match your interests and favourite genres.

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YA Comic Books

This idea has been somewhere in the back of my mind for a while, but it came together last week when Marvel Comics announced that they are launching a series of YA novels, based on their superhero characters. The first two announced are She-Hulk and Rogue, written by Marta Acosta and Christine Woodward and they will be published by Hyperion. I’m going to be stay optimistic. I’m going to say I’m excited by these and I hope they do very well. And I’m not being disingenuous. I want young people, those under 25, especially those under 20, to be interested in comic book characters, whether that’s from Marvel, DC or other publishers.

Superhero comics dominate the US comic book market, but in other countries superheroes are not the main focus. Despite the diversity that now exists in the US market, the majority of the top 100 comics every month are superhero titles. There are exceptions (Walking Dead, Saga etc) but mostly it’s superheroes.

In the last 2 years both Marvel and DC have had one of their biggest reboots and relaunches in a long time. Not just a bit of a tweak, but an almost (almost!) wipe the slate clean and start from issue 1 across the board at DC. Marvel took a right turn and all titles are gradually relaunching with new creators and very new directions. All of which has been great for me, as a lifelong comic book fan. Sales are good in general, but my gut tells me that the percentage of brand new comic book fans, coming into Marvel or DC for the first time because of these initiatives, is very small. My gut also tells me that not many of those were women.

DC and Marvel are always actively seeking new writers and they do mentor new writers. They pair them up with an established creator who helps them learn the ropes. We’ve seen this time and again at Marvel and now some of their most interesting and unique writers were once being mentored. Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction are two names that immediately spring to mind. DC are also doing it as well, and people like James Tynon IV first partnered with Scott Synder before writing solo books. It’s a tried and tested method.

Both companies also bring in writers from other mediums, TV, film and novelists. Sometimes it works out very well and we get writers like Duane Swierczynski and Allan Heinberg, both of who have done some very memorable work for Marvel and DC. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we get Jodi Piucoult. I am sure she is a lovely person and I know her novels sell very well, but her run on Wonder Woman was very short and she’s not been invited back. Her view of the character did not gel with the audience, sales were poor, and they tried a different approach with a new creative team.

I’m very aware that women read comics and superhero comics, but I think there are more men reading them than women. I also think it’s fairly safe to say that the percentage of new and young readers coming into the books is fairly small. I’m also pretty sure that if you took the average age of a mainstream comic book fan, it would be twenty or thirty something, if not older.

Here’s a wacky idea to get more new readers and more women reading comics. Perhaps, in addition to the YA books, Marvel and DC should hire some YA authors to write their teen comic books. As I mentioned above, it doesn’t always work out and if the person is not a fan of comics to begin with, or is not at least familiar with the medium, then the chances of success are fairly small. But I know of several YA authors, most of them women, who are massive comic book fans and I know they would love to write comics. Can and do some of them write their own independent comics? Yes. But getting noticed and getting the word out about one of those comics is a lot more difficult. Also, both of the big companies have some very well known brands and icons that are immediately recogniseable. It’s a lot easier to convince someone to take a chance and spend their money on a new Supergirl comic than something they’ve never heard of before.

I’m sure most, if not all of the YA writers, would need to be mentored first, and during that co-writing phase both the lead writer and the company would find out if it was working or not. But imagine if it worked. A Teen Titans book, written for a YA audience. Now this isn’t me dumping on any of the teen focused books that have gone before, because I have read and enjoyed some of them. But DC in particular made an effort to put some of their comics into sections. Here are the Dark books (Vertigo-esque) grouped into The Edge, here are the Teen books, here are the Batman books etc. So with the relaunch I’m not the target audience for Teen Titans.

In theory, it would also mean that if more younger readers jumped on board with the teen books and assuming they keep reading for several years, they would eventually progress to the mainstream titles. It would also mean more women reading comics, more female role models working in the industry, and hopefully more women who become mainstream comic book writers. The number of women writing at both companies, who are working on major icons, is tiny.

I’m not privy to what is going on behind closed doors at the Big 2, and I’m sure those who are may instantly reject my idea for a number of reasons, or perhaps if I am being optimistic, these sort of talks are already taking place. From an outsiders viewpoint, it seems like a sensible and logical idea to me. It ties together some of what they are already doing and it would tackle one of the biggest problems in mainstream comics. It wouldn’t solve everything but it would be a step in the right direction.

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Ok, but what is it about?

This has been bugging me for a while. That’s probably not the best way to start a post, but there it is. It’s not something new, and it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but it was recently brought to the front of my brain again by the big changes in comics, namely DC comics reboot/relaunch of their new 52.

Overall, I’m a big fan of what they’ve done. It was the right thing to do, rather than a piecemeal approach which they’ve tried in the past, and it has reinvigorated their sales and the interest in their characters. Some of the new comics didn’t succeed, which was bound to happen as they launched 52 ongoing titles, and those that didn’t connect with an audience have been cancelled and replaced with new titles. We’re currently onto the 3rd or 4th wave of titles being cancelled and replaced and there are some new titles very due, but I think only one of them appeals to me. There again, that is not a dig at them. Not all of the comics are meant for me. I’m not the target audience for every title and therefore won’t enjoy all of them. There is something about the latest wave that made me question some of the decisions made, but I’ll come back to that. I’m highlighting DC because they’re at the front of my mind at the moment but this is actually a more general question for all forms of creative writing.

Ok, but what is it about? This is a question I’ve asked a thousand times before about films, TV shows, books and more recently comics. There’s often the tag line, or blurb on the back of a book, or listing and preview on a website, which gives you the highlights, it might even give you the story, but my next question is always, ok so what is it about?

I should preface the rest of this post by saying not everything has to have a deeper meaning and be a rich tapesty that is speaking to you on multiple levels. Sometimes it’s just about scaring people or blowing things up. Sometimes it’s just there to make people laugh or to entertain them. Sometimes you just want something light after a heavy or busy day at work, a screensaver for the mind is a phrase I recently heard that comes to mind. I should also point out that I’m a big fan of action movies. I loved The Expendables and I’m a huge fan of Stallone and Arnie movies. That being said, when I read something, I usually (not always) want there to be more than the tag line. I want it to have meaning, or purpose, or at least to be about something with engaging characters. The back of a book tells you something about what to expect. The inciting incident, the characters, the world, and it might offer you a few clues as to the what, but most often that comes in the reading, which for me is part of the enjoyment.

Also, the what can be different things to different people. Readers see beyond what the author intended and the printed word. They read between the lines or they see something that sits on a parallel to what was presented and it reflects something in their own life creating a special connection to the material. Maybe it reaches them on some emotional level and they feel something. There are many books that are just good rip-roaring adventures with clever characters outwitting the villains, but my favourites, the ones that stick with me, are those where the characters feel so real I wouldn’t be surprised to see them walk past me in the street.

This brings me back to DC’s newest wave of comics. Rob Liefeld is a well known figure in the comics industry, mostly for his art and for being one of the founders of Image comics, but also for being a very outspoken individual. I respect him for his accomplishments, but more recently I really like the way he asked DC difficult questions about some of their new titles. They asked him to take over and reinvigorate some of their flagging titles and he basically asked them – ok, so what is this character about? All of the characters he was asked to look at had been around for decades but the characters, their stories and their purpose were not clear.

Because of the age of many comic book characters their back stories are often complex and muddled, but with the best of them you can still pinpoint the why. Batman’s is a story about vengeance and justice. Righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. Stopping tragedies from occuring like the very incident that created him. Superman is about hope, inspiration, the human spirit and (to me at least) a message that we’re all the same regardless of our skin colour, religion, gender etc. Equally I can point at specific titles from the 52 and I know what they’re about once you strip away the costumes, the fighting and the gadgets. The latest incarnation of Batman and Robin is really a story about fathers and sons, about bettering yourself, about living up to expectations, about absent parents, and so on. Most of those points are from Damian’s point of view and there is also the other side, with Bruce trying to reform his son and prove to him that people are worth saving, rather than destroying, as his grandfather would have him believe. It’s a fascinating and quite unique dynamic, and that is what would make me come back rather than a new Batmobile or to see them fighting the Penguin or the Riddler.

Comics that feature teams, where several well known characters work together, are sometimes less complicated and more about entertainment and facing bigger enemies, but they can be about family, duty, honour, responsibility and so on. The problem, for me, comes when there are five or six or seven team books from the same publisher and they all start to look the same. Some DC comics team titles are very distinct. Suicide Squad is a disturbing and dark team book. They’re lifers, people who will never be released from prison, getting a chance to make some small amends. The stories are about redemption and very grey, where they go on missions the heroes wouldn’t be able to stomach. Justice League (or JLA) is the blockbuster movie of team comics. It includes the biggest heroes and they go after the biggest villains, and so on with a couple of the other team comics.

One team book was recently cancelled (Justice League International) and in the latest wave of replacements comics, another team comic is taking its place (The Ravagers). Even more recently another team book was announced (Team Seven). In both instances I asked the question and didn’t know the answer. Even from reading the blurb, looking at the characters and knowing quite a bit about their background (because I’m a DC fan of old) I kept asking, so what is it about? And I don’t think they really know. I’m happy to admit that I could be proven wrong and will say so in public. I’m also willing to admit I don’t know everything about the new books and all of this is from an outsiders perspective, but at the moment I just don’t see the appeal of these new titles. And by that I specifically mean, as a fan and potential reader, I’m trying to find a reason to pick up these new titles and am not motivated to because I dont know what they’re really about. I like some of the characters involved, but that’s not enough for me.

DC are trying lots of new things, they’re experimenting, they’re taking risks and throwing characters together that don’t normally interact to see what happens. All of these things are great and to be commended, but for something to have any kind of longevity, I don’t think that’s enough, especially when there are lots of other team comics out there. And that’s not even taking into account titles published by other companies and then all of the other titles in different genres. Rob Liefield asked DC similar questions about the titles he was asked to work on (Hawkman, Grifter, Deathstroke) and he is now trying to give a definitive answer in each case. Whether or not he succeeds, and whether or not the stories are good, is irrelevant. Someone is asking the right questions and is trying to give a clear answer and provide a reason to make you interested and pick up the comic.

I’ve ended up focusing more on comics than I anticipated, but that’s only because I have more info about it than other areas but it’s all still relevant. All of this made me look more closely at my own work and think about the dreaded synopsis. I actually think it’s the worst part of writing a novel. After spending months (or possibly years) of working on something, of immersing yourself in a world and breathing life into the characters, it feels like a hideous betrayal of all that invested time and effort to then condense it down into a sentence, soundbyte or a couple of paragraphs. But you have to do it. You have to scrape away the top layer, and dig below the surface and then keep digging until you can answer the question. I’ve yet to see a publisher or agent’s submission guidelines that want a one line hook, so it doesn’t quite need to be Ocean’s Eleven meets The Godfather, or whatever, but you do have to pare it down. And that doesn’t mean just a list of the main plot points because that list should bring you back to the original question.

Am I closer to writing the synopsis to my novel? Well, a little bit, but I am now thinking about the project in these terms and once the first draft is finished (and I’ve revised it a lot thereafter) I’m going to sit back and see if the actual novel that I ended up with is the same as the one I started out planning to write.

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DC Comics 52 relaunch – Something is missing

Just some further thoughts on DC comics new 52 relaunch. Now that some of the dust has settled and issue 3 of most titles has come out, people are starting to find out which titles they really love and settle into various camps such as Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Horror (Swamp Thing, Animal Man), Teen, and so on. I’ve recently been watching some of the Young Justice animated series and it made me think about what I think is missing from the 52 relaunch. It’s mentors and teachers. It’s books about young people learning how to be heroes from the start.

Fantasy books are full of farm boys and stable boys growing up to become great warriors and heroes. They feature an epic journey where the fresh faced nobody must overcome numerous impossible obstacles and eventually they succeed and are stronger for it. Over a long period of time they become someone other boys with dreams look up to; an icon and hero in their own right. So far I’ve not seen this from DC which is very surprising given some of their popular successes.

Peering across the street, Marvel has a school for gifted youngsters, now the Jean Grey school, where some of the most dangerous and famous X-men as now the teachers, including Wolverine. They’ve also had the extremely popular X-Men movie franchise. Just so we’re clear, this is not me being negative about DC at all because right now I’m buying more DC books than ever before and very few Marvel books. I just think there is still room for new titles from DC comics that could potentially cover areas not currently being explored.

Think about the Christopher Nolan Batman films and put to one side the actors, directors, special effects and so on. If you focus on what made the films really interesting and enjoyable, then for me it’s the story and the heart of that adventure. It’s the journey of Bruce Wayne from naïve wounded puppy to seriously dangerous and extremely threatening and scary menace of the underworld. I loved seeing him learn different skills from a wide range of different Masters. Be they low criminals and thieves, crime bosses, leaders of ancient cults or dangerous psychopaths like the Joker. I loved seeing him absorb all of those skills and all of that knowledge, learn from his mistakes, sift through the information and shape it into a weapon that he could use for his mission. Something that would bring together all of his new skills together with his fear of bats. He didn’t start out as someone who was born to that way of life, nor was he gifted with special powers, nor did he come from another planet or gain superpowers in some freak accident. This is something he chose. Something inside him broke when his parents died and the only way he knew how to cope (I’m not saying it’s a healthy or recommended way of dealing with loss!) was to become something terrifying and fight an endless war on crime.

If you look at all of the new 52 titles you could argue that Bruce Wayne is training and mentoring Damian, his son. But let’s be honest, Damian was trained practically from the second he was conceived. He is already a devious and extremely dangerous evil genius who was left to fend for himself in some of the most hideous ways imaginable. In some ways Bruce is trying to teach Damian how to be a real human being and to care rather than let him develop into an evil megalomaniac like his grandfather. So Damian is not just a kid off the street like Jason was a long time ago. He’s not even like Dick or Tim, both of who had no formal training at the start in being a crime fighter. They were trained over many year by many masters, including Batman, before each became a hero in their own right.

The new Teen Titans comic is not about the youngsters learning how to be heroes like the animated adventures, and in Batgirl she is already someone who has been trained and is coming back to the cowl after some time away. The closest I can probably find is Bette Kane, who in the pages of Batwoman, is being trained by her cousin. She is not given a proper costume and is being tutored by Kate, but it’s not exactly the same thing. The book is very much focused on Kate not Bette.

Some of the other titles feature young heroes but they are either accidental heroes who have to learn what they are how it all works (Blue Beetle), aliens who have crash landed and are the stranger in a strange land (Supergirl) or experiments (Superboy) being programmed to be a weapon at someone else’s behest. One of my biggest complaints about the TV series Smallville was that Clark whinged all the time. Every single episode he probably made at least one comment about wanting to be normal and he never seemed to enjoy his powers and what they allowed him to do. What I’m talking about is someone who wants to be a hero or crime fighter, who has sought it out and is pushing themselves beyond normal human limits because they have a driving need and urge that is not quenched by a normal life.

I think all of the tools and pieces are already there for a comic like the one I’ve described which is focused on a student and mentor relationship. All it requires is that DC dust off certain toys currently sat in their box and wrap them up in new clothing as they’ve done with a lot of characters in the new 52. Maybe something like this will be coming in the second wave of titles from them. I certainly hope so, because if not, I think DC are missing a trick, especially given how popular such themes are across the street in comics and at the movies.

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Where is Wonder Woman at 70?

Next month marks the 70th anniversary of the first appearance of Wonder Woman. She is one of DC comics Trinity, that is their best of the best, biggest, toughest and, in theory at least, most popular flagship characters. Like all comic book characters with such a long history, Diana has gone through many iterations over the decades and has been in the hands of dozens of writers, artists and editors. As well as comic books there have been animated versions, thousands of tonnes of merchandise, and of course the famous 1970s TV show starring Lynda Carter. There have been several attempts to develop a live action movie, but none have taken off. The most recent was going to be written and directed by Joss Whedon (who is currently directing The Avengers for Marvel) but sadly Whedon and those in charge couldn’t agree on the direction for the project so it was shelved. Earlier this year there was an attempt to develop a new Wonder Woman live action TV series. It was so badly received, and quite frankly utterly awful, that it was cancelled and mercifully never went beyond the pilot. One of the many reasons it was so poor is that those who developed the show didn’t understand the character. You don’t have to be a slave to the details but if you miss the heart of the character it will always die an early death.

Over the years I’ve known several women who wear Wonder Woman clothing because of what it symbolises to them and they only knew about the character from the TV show. They’ve never picked up a Wonder Woman comic book and have no real interest in doing so. The Wonder Woman symbol is not quite as well known as Superman’s shield, which has become synonymous with hope and the tenets he upholds, but her symbol is a cultural icon. If you ask people what Batman stands for they will be able to tell you something about his endless war on crime and his thirst for vengeance. If you ask them about Superman they might cite the phrase ‘truth, justice and the American Way’. Ask the same person what Wonder Woman stands for and you’re likely to get one of several responses. Either it will be a blank stare, or you might get something about girl power, or more accurately something about a message of equal rights and equal opportunities for women.

In the hands of a poor writer Wonder Woman becomes a blunt instrument with which they bludgeon readers over the head about issues in society. Topical issues should and can be part of a comic book story, where appropriate, but it should never be the entire story. It’s a comic book, not a political lecture on human rights violations. Equally those who make her into a cold hearted and brutal warrior, to make a point about her being able to stand toe-to-toe with male superheroes, to show that she is just as capable as them at beating up the bad guys, is doing the character an enormous disservice. She is an elite warrior but also a symbol for peace and love. She is a powerhouse who possesses great physical strength, but she’s also capable of great compassion and kindness. She is a leader and a battlefield general that was trained to fight, almost from birth, but she is also a warm and caring woman. Ignore any part of that and you end up with something hideous, hollow and probably callous.

Wonder Woman might be the most popular female superhero in comics, but despite that, there is an imbalance. DC comics recently relaunched all of their ongoing monthly mainstream comics, which are predominantly superhero titles. There is an ongoing monthly Wonder Woman title, but just the one. Taken from DC comics own ‘The New 52’ web page, there are 4 Superman related titles and 11 Batman related titles, but only one Wonder Woman ongoing monthly. To maintain full disclosure and to be fair to DC comics, I should point out that Wonder Woman is a member of the Justice League and will therefore feature in that comic, but so are Batman and Superman. Justice League is a team comic book and even though she will have some time in the spotlight, it will be shared with the other well known characters. Given all of that, I feel that there is a serious imbalance by only having one Wonder Woman title.

If you look on DC comics website they have a list of 30 essential graphic novels. These are best-selling titles that are great places for newcomers to get a flavour for DC comics and also appropriate for older fans looking to expand their knowledge. Five of them are solo Batman titles, two are solo Superman, and four or five others feature both characters in a team up or Justice League scenario. Four of the team books feature Wonder Woman, but there again there are no solo books. I realise this is a slightly different point, as the list only contains best-sellers, but it does indicate an imbalance in public opinion as well. I believe some writers have captured Wonder Woman’s essence incredibly well and there are some great stories, but they just aren’t selling as well as other titles.

The new ongoing Wonder Woman title is being written by Brian Azzarello and he has described it as a horror comic. That is to say, this is not a slasher comic with vampires or people being chased by a maniac in a hockey mask. To clarify, Azzarello has said in interviews it will be horrific only in terms of what the Greek gods get up to as they interact with the modern world. The gods are capricious beings that play with people, plot and scheme to their own ends, and to them people are objects to play with and do with as they wish. Peering across the street, I would guess that it is similar to what the Norse gods get up to in the Marvel universe where Loki is a dangerous and sneaky adversary who causes all sorts of problems. He was the main threat in the first Thor movie and is also the lead villain in The Avengers movie due out in 2012. This indicates those storylines can be interesting and broad enough that they appeal to a mainstream audience, so there is a thirst for this type of story if it is done well.

In her own comic book Wonder Woman will be caught up in the middle of the games the Gods are playing and will have to deal with the fall out from their plots. She will be facing powerful beings that have the power and capacity to cause her serious harm, which will put her in genuine peril.

So the Azzarello written comic book covers the mythological side of Wonder Woman, effectively dovetailing nicely into her origin and it involves her dealings with the gods. But for one of DC comics Trinity characters I think there should at least be a second ongoing monthly comic book which focuses on other more human and earthly aspects. For example a second title could look at how she is perceived by the general public. This aspect is being touched on in several DC titles including Action Comics (Superman as an alien outsider and an unknown quantity), Aquaman (a bit of a joke and misunderstood superhero), JLA (Batman as a myth) and so on. How does the average person on the street see Wonder Woman? What does she mean to them? There is also the fact that she is a powerful superhero in the twenty first century, a role model and an icon, in an era where fame and celebrities dominate the media. Also she doesn’t wear a mask, which makes it a bit more difficult to have a secret identity. I guess I’m more interested in the character and her role in today’s society than exploring her origin, which is being covered elsewhere.

I’ve often looked at comic book characters and thought about which ones I would like to write and which I think could write. There are some that I would actively avoid, not because I dislike them, it’s more about not understanding or being able to relate to them. I like reading about Superman but at the moment I don’t have a single Superman story floating around in my head. Some characters are easy choices because I understand them, or I’m very similar to them on some level. But every now and then a character sneaks up on me and I find myself drawn to them. I never thought Wonder Woman would fit into that category but there she is. And now the ideas are rattling around my head.

I sincerely hope DC comics does all it can to promote and improve Wonder Woman’s profile because I think she is a very interesting and special character that deserves more attention.

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