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Spooky Stuff: Five Scary Movies (And One Not So Scary Movie)
Five Scary Movies The Bird with the Crystal Plumage: I've already discussed it a little earlier this week, but it bears mentioning again because it's my favorite Argento film. It's full of memorable scenes, from the opening where Tony Musante is trapped between the security doors and unable to help the woman who has been stabbed to the scene where he inadvertently eats something unpleasant, this is one of those movies that stays with you. And, unlike most of Argento's other thrillers, this one really is a "fair-play" mystery. If you pay very careful attention, you should realize what exactly it was that Musante's character has misremembered about the crime he witnessed.
The Ring: I like it because it not only is probably the best of the new wave of horror films that have put style and atmosphere and good acting over needless gore effects and shock value, but also it's one of those few rare horror films that actually has something to say. It's probably the first serious post-structuralist take on horror, heavily emphasizing the breakdowns between image and reality, and calling into question the nature of reality. Is it shared, is it objective, is it consensual? The films breaks downs and challenges all three notions of reality, leaving us alone in an existential void where image is more real than reality.
The Wicker Man: A true classic of the genre. I'm reluctant to go into too much detail because I find it still has the power to shock people who have never seen it. What the film does, ably assisted by it's incredible cast, is return us to our pagan roots and remind us of the terrible power and evil that can be done in the name of pleasing the gods. It's amazing to watch Edward Woodard's by-the-book Christian-with-a-capital-C cop be lead step-by-step to his terrible fate. The ending manages to make you both feel for him despite the fact that he's an absolutely insufferable prick and marvel at the twisted mind of Christopher Lee's Lord Summerisle.
The Other: Not to be confused with the also note-worthy Nicole Kidman film of a similar title, this is another one of those compelling films that seems rarely seen, and it also has the power to shock and surprise an audience who have never seen it before. The story retells the legend of Cain and Abel in small-town America, with one of a pair of identical twins trying to save his family from his murderous brother. Only not all is as it appears, as the film fully takes advantage of the novel's unreliable narrator and translates it into film, no easy task.
The Reflecting Skin: This is an amazing film about loss and isolation. It may be cheating a bit to put it on a list of horror films, but since vampirism is heavily used as a metaphor for losing a companion to someone else and the devil himself plays a prominent role, it qualifies as horror for me. This film is full of beautiful landscape shots and frankly disturbing images (the exploding frog that opens the film comes immediately to mind), but it's emphasis is one the loneliness of one young boy who can't understand why the people he loves keep leaving him and so concocts a fantasy about the beautiful young widow who lives next door being a vampire in order to make sense of his world. That he doesn't seem to understand how this eventually leads to the tragic ending of the film makes it all the more affecting.
Honorable Mention: The Changeling: This George C. Scott haunted-house movie is still one of the best examples of the genre. No gore, no big scares, just an unfolding mystery of quiet menace leading to the inevitable apocalyptic ending.
A Not Scary Movie The Wendigo: I really can't say enough bad things about this movie. That it wastes a terrible cast on a stupid script is bad enough, but a lot of film critics seem to have been completely buffaloed by this film. Here's a hint, just because the director says he's a genius doesn't make him one. The special effects are laughable, basically consisting of a stick and bone marionette clumsily operated off-camera and a guy in a suit that looks like it was borrowed from a furry convention being filmed at a higher speed than the rest of the film. It's so terrible you wish that they hadn't even bothered to spend any money on creature effects at all and had just let the audience imagine the monster. The "city-folk are good and country-folk are evil" message is one of the most worn-out horror cliches at this point, and the treatment of Native American myth feels tacked on the make the film seem more important. The only way I can imagine that this film got any kind of distribution at all is due to the uncomfortably long and surprisingly graphic sex scene which occurs in the middle of the film for no reason whatsoever other than to film naked people. I guess they couldn't get an "R" rating any other way.
Honorable Mention: The Blair Witch Project: After twenty minutes I was hoping that the witch would show up and kill all these people. God, what a pretentious waste of time this film was.
--Kevin, Johanna, Dave and Sam all had something to say about my piece on vampires. All the rebuttals make good points, but y'know, I still don't like vampires and find the symbolism as used in contemporary horror films and novels kind of creepy and bothersome.
--Friday Physique is still a going concern with me, I had to skip last week due to bandwidth issues. It's got full-frontal nudity today, though, so those of you browsing at work may want to consider that before clicking over.
--I did read last week's comics, I just haven't had the wherewithal to sit down and attempt to review them. And I haven't even attempted to dip into this week's books yet. This will probably lead to a huge review post sometime next week that will make me wonder why I even bother writing up reviews.
--(And for some reason, I keep typing "last" when I mean to say "next" and vice-versa...)
--Spooky Stuff: Anyone at all interested in criticism of horror films, or like me actually reads thick academic books of textual analysis for fun (hey, I'm not in school anymore, I have to find out what all the cool kids are saying about the hot French philosophers somehow), might want to check out Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover, a feminist analysis of horror films, particularly slasher films. Her thesis is that horror films, rather than being violent misogynistic fantasies as most knee-jerk criticism suggests, actually have an underlying pro-woman message. I've often thought that a good number of the newest wave of horror film-makers must have read this book, because their plots so closely follow the trends she outlines. Also worth notice is Monsters in the Closet by Harry Benshoff, which looks at homoeroticism and homophobia in horror films, with a heavy emphasis on "classic" movie monsters and the B-Movies of the fifties and sixties. If you're interested in gay themes in movies at all, this book should be on your shelf right next to The Celluloid Closet.
I recently, well "caved" is probably the best word to describe it, and bought three of Hideshi Hino's horror anthology manga from Cocoro Books. I'd encountered his work before. Hell Baby was the first "unflipped" manga I ever bought, years and years ago. At the time, my reaction was "this is too cute to be scary." It took some years and a more nuanced approach to horror for me to appreciate work like Hino's. His art is very cartoony, but it also has a very organic feel to it which accentuates the grotesque elements very well.
Black Cat is probably my favorite of the three books. Chiefly, I've got a fondness for stories told from the perspective of animals. It's an interesting narrative approach to horror stories, probably best used in Wayne Smith's novel Thor, a were-wolf story told from the perspective of the menaced family's pet German Shepard. The narrator of Black Cat is an orphaned kitten left behind in the town dump after all his brothers are adopted by local children. He is left behind because, as a black cat, he is "bad luck." The cat sets out to explore the world, and learn more about the strange creatures called humans. Through his eyes we see three stories of human cruelty and madness. The cat doesn't judge, he simply observes, and attempts to place what he has seen in some kind of context of what human beings are. It's a morbidly depressing and cynical book (as Mike said to me when I bought it "this book was aimed at you") which says nothing positive about humanity. That it relies entirely on the horror of human nature, rather than the supernatural or unknown, simply drives that home even more, and makes it even more effective as a horror story. It's hard to get worried about zombies laying waste to your city, but easy to get concerned about how the kid down the street who's bullied all the time might someday take revenge.
Ghost School and Death's Reflection are both supernatural horror anthologies told in a shojo style. Here "shojo" apparently means "their eyes are bigger than normal," as apart from the fact that all the characters are school-girls, nothing else about it really screams "shojo" to me. The stories here are interesting because they are almost childish, tapping into fears and concerns of childhood, particularly those centered around school. So we have stories of bullying teachers, bullying class-mates, boys who won't leave you alone, punishments for breaking the rules, a fantastic story about the fear of aging and losing youth and beauty, and one particular story that relies on a very adolescent fear of gender confusion for its effect. Overall the stories are good, but I was put in mind a little bit of Goosebumps-type books for the pre-teen set, only with actual gore and violence. Which makes the publishers "A" for "Adult" ratings on the books a little frustrating, as I could probably easily sell these to the teen and pre-teen set, and nothing in it would be inappropriate, but I don't want to have to explain to angry parents why I sold their kid a book labeled as being for adults.
Well, after finally getting blogger to update my site after 14 hours, I guess it's time to talk about the books that came in this week.
--Flipping through the new issue of Wizard, mostly to check out the preview for Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory project, I happened to glance at the article on Brian Bendis and the "Avengers Disassembled" story. Which spoils the ending of next week's Avengers #503. So, I thought that was poor planning, but whether it's on the part of Wizard or Marvel we may never know.
--A terrible, horrible, absolutely evil thought occurred to me in regards to Green Lantern: Rebirth: all those Green Lantern fans must have taken Grant Morrison's advice on sigils and how to activate them. How else to explain the demand for Hal Jordan to return?
--We got no less than five horror comics in today written by Steve Niles. Last Train to Deadsville, Horroricide, Hyde, 30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker's Tales and Lurkers. I believe the technical term for that much product of a similar nature all being released on the same day is "overkill."
--According to this week's Diamond Dateline the covers for Warlock #s 3 and 4 will be swapped. In other words, what was going to be the cover for #3, will now be the cover for #4, and vice versa. Which, you know, would actually be relevant information if Marvel's covers bore any relation whatsoever to the actual content.
--Oh, and the cover artists and interior artists will be changed on some of those What If? books that are coming out in a couple of months. Not that Marvel would ever do a "bait-and-switch" in their solicitations, oh no...
--We did indeed get our copies of Complete Peanuts Vol. 2...only about a month after the slip-cased edition containing both volumes 1 and 2 was shipped to us. Still no word from Fantagraphics about what that was about. Oh, wait, right...they see bookstores as the primary market for those books. Because the book-store market is going to be very supportive of a 25 volume hard-cover series that takes 12 years to complete...
--Best comics this week: Demo #11, we3 #2, ps238 #8 and the Fred the Clown collection.
I really fail to see the appeal of the vampire in horror fiction and films. It's a ridiculous, over-used, and ultimately dumb concept that just never gets used well. Instead, we're treated to a lot of silly tragi-romantic figures designed to appeal to people who think that no, really, Anne Rice is a good writer.
Let's start with the basics here, and look at the vampire figure in Eastern European myth. It's a bloated corpse, it's mouth flecked with blood, that spreads corruption and death throughout the community. It's a breakdown of the natural order, the stubborn refusal of the unwanted to leave people alone. It's not a pleasant thing. It's a disease metaphor, in fact. We'll get back to that later, but come on! What the heck is so romantic and tragic about a blood-bloated corpse.
Clearly, the vampire was in need of some serious renovation in order to make it a figure palatable to the masses. Luckily, Bram Stoker and his Victorian-era sexual fetishes came along and provided just the right refurbishments. Gone is the dead, fat peasant, and along comes the elegant nobleman. And he's not here to infect everyone with disease, no, he's just looking for love. Love that requires him to sneak into women's rooms at night and take them by force. What a bold and terrific improvement! Let's take a symbol of corruption and disease and turn it into a symbol for rape and sexual violence! Brilliant! And just for good measure, let's make it damn clear that the women being violated by the handsome stranger derive pleasure from it. Sheesh...
And so the vampire as "man women want to rape them" theme played out for a good long while...until Interview With A Vampire came out. I suspect that, on some level, Anne Rice may have been both aware and uncomfortable with the sexual violence aspect of vampire stories. So, she turned the tables. Instead of a vampire preying on young women because they secretly desire it, she has the vampire prey on young men because they secretly desire it. Now, homoeroticism had already been introduced into the vampire myth, several times. Dracula's Daughter, Carmilla and Vampyros Lesbos are proof enough of that. Of course, lesbian chic and titillation of the male audience was more the point of those works than any a serious attempt to again reinvent the vampire myth. I sort of have to admire those works for being so shameless in their pandering. No, what Rice did was to attempt to remake the vampire as a symbol of homosexuality while retaining the elements of sexual violence and disease. Just in time, I might add, for a real disease to mark out gay men in the public's eyes as sexual predators and carriers of disease. Way to go Anne!
Now given all that, you'd think the figure could be opened up to some further deconstruction. Nope, generally people seem fairly content with this figure. I walk into book-stores, and I check out the horror section, in the vain hope that something of merit like House of Leaves has been published, but what I find instead is shelf-upon-shelf of turgid novels all written by women who wear too much black eye-liner about tragic effeminate noblemen who prey on innocents, spouting angst-filled monologues at every opportunity, living a life of decadence until they find that special woman (always named Mary Sue, oddly enough) who can bring some light and life into their endless undead night. I'd find reading a transcript of the goth kids down the street weekly "World of Darkness" gaming session more compelling.
So, what are we left with the vampire...a disease metaphor, a Victorian metaphor for rape, and a very strange woman's twisted take on gay relationships. And people eat this stuff up! They can't get enough of it! Vampire books, vampire movies, hell, even vampire cereal! Eat a big bowl of your Eastern European inability to understand the process of decomposition, kids!
And don't get me started on zombies...I can't stand those either. Every zombie film and comic is essentially the same...a band of plucky survivors band together to fight the odds until human nature causes them to pick each other off one by one. And the zombies themselves...come on, yes, we all get that Romero used them as a metaphor for mindless consumerism and the dehumanizing effects of 20th century American culture. SAY SOMETHING NEW! (Shaun of the Dead gets a pass on this critique because it's not technically a zombie film, it's a romantic comedy with zombies in it.)
The penultimate issue of Brian Wood's and Becky Cloonan's excellent mini-series is a bit of a departure from the tone of many of the previous issues. For one, it's almost entirely angst-free. Instead, Wood and Cloonan have given us a sly comedy about three slackers locked into a grocery store for the clean-up shift. What is usually a night of goofing off and getting away with the bare minimum amount of work necessary ends with the characters making serious decisions about what they want to do with themselves for the rest of their lives, sending their relationships with one another into crisis mode.
The characters are, perhaps, too recognizable. I know I certainly know people who act just like Jace, Jill and Brad. Heck, I'm reasonably certain that at one time all of these characters have behaved exactly like I used to. It's certainly one of Wood's gifts as a writer, to sketch characters out so deftly that they still are recognizable and relateable. This is also probably the loosest I've ever seen Cloonan's pencils in this series, with the most visibly obvious manga influence. As usual, she manages to capture each character's personality with her deceptively simple and expressive line-work.
Ultimately, I found this one of the most satisfying issues of Demo. It's the one in which I can most identify with the characters, and it's ultimate message, "do what makes you happy," is the most positive and proactive ending we've seen so far.
Demo #11 will be available from all good comic shops on Wednesday.
I'm an unashamed fan of the giallo school of film-making. Something about their low-budget blend of dark comedy and serial killer mayhem appeals to me in a way that the American takes on the subject, which tend to be both expansively gory and self-important and serious, don't. Of course, the giallo films themselves can be plenty gory, but they're stylishly gory. My favorite director of the school is Dario Argento. He's managed to carve a niche for himself in the genre with his inventive camera-work and, to be honest, generally better written films.
It quickly becomes apparent when you watch several of Argento's films that he's found a pattern that works and he's sticking to it. The writing on the films is so clever and so adapt at keeping you guessing that he mostly successfully avoids being formulaic. He's also shown a willingness to change or drop those elements that people seem to expect from him. The basic "rules" of an Argento film are:
-The hero witnesses a crime, but misremembers an important detail
-The motivation of the crimes is an attempt to conceal something that happened in the past
-A work of art provides an important clue
-Someone figures out who the killer is, announces that they will tell the hero who the killer is "as soon as I see you in person," and is killed before they can tell anyone who the killer is
-The obvious suspect couldn't possibly be the killer
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a good example of many of these rules. In it Tony Musante (still in his heart-throb phase) is an American writer living in Italy who witnesses a brutal attack on a woman in an art gallery. During the course of the attack, Musante finds himself trapped in the security doors, unable to go out to the street to call for help or get into the gallery to aid the woman. The scene is extremely powerful, exploiting both the voyeuristic aspects of the horror genre (Musante's inability to do anything but watch the woman as she lies bleeding on the floor) and foreshadowing the claustrophobic stalking Musante is about to experience as the killer targets him.
Deep Red (inexplicably re-titled "The Hatchet Murders" during it's initial US release, despite a noted lack of any killings involving a hatchet) takes these tropes to the next level. A British musician living in Italy, played by David Hemmings, witnesses the murder of the psychic who lives above him shortly after the woman "tuned in" to the mind of a murderer at a demonstration of her abilities. Egged on to investigate the crime himself by Daria Nicolodi, as a wonderfully assertive journalist, Hemmings finds himself running out of clues as everyone who could help him uncover the missing clues he needs are killed just before they can tell him anything. The murders here are much more inventively gory than the ones in Bird, and the film score by Goblin adds tremendously to the increasingly bizarre nature of the film.
After making a couple of not terribly good but generally well-liked supernatural horror films, Argento returned to his black-gloved serial killer in Tenebre. Again, an American writer travels to Italy to promote his new book, only to discover that someone is killing "degenerates" in a fashion modeled after the deaths in his newest crime thriller. Soon, the killer moves from attacking those whose lack of morality infuriates him to those who are close to the writer himself. Argento notches up the mystery by introducing flash-backs of sexual torture and murder from the viewpoint of an unseen person, presumably the killer. The final set-piece of the film, where the killer is finally revealed, is chiefly notable for it's memorable death by modern art.
Opera is perhaps Argento's most well-liked film, and it's certainly his most ambitious in terms of staging and complexity of trick shots. A young opera singer is stalked by a madman, who forces her to watch as he kills her friends and lovers. Here, Argento takes the criticism of horror films as violent voyeur fantasies and runs with it, giving us a long opening POV shot from the perspective of a temperamental diva, to a killer that literally forces his victim's eye-lids open with needles in order to force her to watch him commit his crimes.
Sleepless, one of Argento's most recent films, is frustrating in that the only US edition available is in a full-screen and apparently edited format. Nevertheless, it represents a new level of craftsmanship. Claustrophobic stagings (a murder on an empty commuter train), POV shots (a long pan of a theater's carpeted floor with people's feet running back and forth leading up to the discovery of a body), his trademark black humor (undead midget puppets), and twisted killers and bizarre motives (a nursery rhyme as the blue-print for a killing spree) all add up to what should be one of Argento's best works...if only we Americans could get a look at the real version...
[Edited because I apparently forgot how to spell "Argento"]
So, a while back I posted a mini-rant about how customers who ask for discounts annoy me. I've been mulling it over, and I've decided that I wasn't quite fair. There are a few very simple ways to get me to give you a discount on comics, particularly back-issues.
1)Be a regular customer: If I see you on a weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly basis, and you spend money each time you come in (the people who come in every week and never buy any comics are a story for another time...), it won't take me long to see that you support our store and I appreciate that. I'm more inclined to consider your request favorably when I've had time to develop a sense of your tastes, spending habits and attitude towards me and the store.
Don't come in off the street for the first time and have your very first words ever to me be "What kind of discount do you give?"
2) Don't assume I'm going to give you a discount: Using conditional or polite phrases such as "please", "could you", "is it possible" when asking for a discount can only work in your favor. It's also helpful if you don't get angry or indignant when I don't immediately acquiesce to your request. A mature, adult understanding of why I may not be able to discount an item is also in your favor.
Don't be the guy who says "The place I used to buy my comics at gave me a 40% discount on everything. I expect you to beat that or I'll continue doing business with them." Believe me, I'll tell you where you can take your "business" if you do.
3) Spend a lot of money: It may sound mercenary, but experience has taught me that most people apparently define "a lot of money" as $20. Now, if your age is in the single digits, yes, $20 is a "a lot of money"...but if you're older than me and your credit card says "MD" after your name and $20 is "a lot of money" you probably should be spending that money on something other than comics.
4) Related to the above point Buy a lot of comics: The more comics you're buying, the more money you're spending, the more inclined I am to cut you some slack on the final total.
To see how rules 3 and 4 work, here are a Do and a Don't example. If you're spending $300 on back-issues and you're buying 200 comics you're buying lots and lots of low-grade or inexpensive books. You're buying books that either we didn't have to spend a lot of money on ourselves, or we simply want to get rid of them and have priced them to move. This is a good situation to ask for a discount.
However, if you're spending $300 on comics and you're only buying two, you're in all likelihood buying high-grade golden or silver age books. In other words, you're buying books that we had to pay a good amount of money to purchase in the first place. In many cases, we don't have a very large mark-up on books like that because we simply can't afford to have them hanging around the store. They're priced to move so that we can get our money back quickly. Discounting a book like that would actually cost the store money. Discounting a book we only paid a nickel for, not so much...
5) Buy comics nobody else wants: I'm serious. Don't ask for an in-demand book or perennially popular series. In most cases I've got trouble enough keeping those books in stock and if you don't want to pay our asking price we'll have plenty of people who will. However, if you come in and tell me that you want full runs of Checkmate, Suicide Squad, Manhunter and the middle 60 issues of Firestorm I'll be so happy to see those box-warmers go I may offer you a discount before it even occurs to you to ask.
--I'm in imminent danger of exceeding my bandwidth allotment for the month, so who knows if anyone will see this...
--I finally got around to making a horror display at work. It's a shameless attempt to cash in on the pre-Halloween buying frenzy. Well, okay, there's never actually been a pre-Halloween buying frenzy in the store, ever, but if every store that sells videos and DVDs can be overflowing with cheap horror releases at this time of the month I may as well try to get in on a piece of that action.
It was not just a shameless attempt on my part to unload all those IDW trades we're over-stocked on, I assure you...
--Speaking of IDW, and their trade paper backs: I've yet to notice any great demand for any of them, with the sole exception of the CSI trades. And even those are a tough sell. There does seem to be a core audience for IDW product, but that audience primarily appears to want first printings of individual issues and nothing else! Speculators, in other words, seem to be the core element of their audience.
--It's been five months and we still have people coming in and looking for back-issues of Identity Crisis. These are not speculators, though we have had a few, these are people who actually want to read it and are just now hearing about it.
The Pickytarian which has good reviews
Crocodile Caucus a good pop-culture blog
Wax Banks which gets props from me because, in addition to some nice political commentary, the author seems to have had the same reaction to Team America: World Police I had.
And John Oak Dalton, No-Sword and Trusy Plinko Stick all resist my attempts to categorize them as blogs focused on a narrow range of topics, but they're all worth your attention anyway.
--Fromn Terry Pratchett's newest Discworld novel Going Postal:
Dave's Pin Exchange was the kind of small shop where the owner knows every single one of his customers by name. It was a wonderful world, the world of pins. It was a hobby that could last you a lifetime. ... Everyone had their funny little wasys, Moist conceded, but he wasn't entirely at home among people who, if they saw a pinup, would pay attention to the pins. Some of the customers browsing the book racks ... and staring covetously at the rack of pins laid out under glass, had an intensity of expression that frightened him. ... They were all male. Clearly, women weren't natural "pinheads."
No, as Pratchett is wont to do, he's not really talking about pins and pin collectors in that passage at all.
I just become aware of Talk To My Face, and I have to say that the tone and attitude of the site's author appeals to me greatly.
Anyway, on to some of the new releases:
The "Silver Age JLA by Alex Ross" poster looks like it was recycled from one of those "collector plates" they used to sell at the Warner Brothers Stores. Exactly how big a dent did it make in Ross' annual income when all those commissions for "limited edition" products disappeared?
With contributions from both Mike Miller and James Hudnall, Comic Book Digest might have well as just slapped a big sticker on it that says: Comics for people who still take Ann Coulter seriously...
(Yes, I realize the above comment was probably needlessly bitchy, but those two guys really bug me...)
The most recent issue of Video Watchdog has a still photo of Sean Connery as the Green Knight in it...it's an image of surreal beauty, it is.
I was helping a customer with his subscription today and he wanted me to put him down for every title within a certain "family" of titles. He then went on to list exceptions to that, which excluded almost every series, mini-series, one-shot, special, annual and the like within that family, basically leaving one title out of the half-dozen or so that are regularly published to be pulled for him. Instead of, you know, just asking me to put him down for that particular title.
Judd Winick's Batman book looks fun. That's "fun" as opposed to "grim and dull retread of something Frank Miller did years ago."
I wasn't going to read Nightwing past the War Games storyline anyway, and the new writer pretty much insures that I won't.
The solicitations for Batgirl and Robin sort of spoil War Games, don't they? Of course, by the time most people see these solicitations it'll be in a hard copy of Previews and the storyline will be over, so it doesn't really matter.
Still no mention of Supergirl in anything...guess they were just teasing us...
Oh, and NO, the solicitation for Adventures of Superman is not a Identity Crisis spoiler...Lois was shot in AOS a couple issues back.
I'd sort of heard that Scott McCloud might have a Superman project in the works sometime back, so I'm glad to see it finally materialize as Superman: Strength.
In Aquaman Lorena officially becomes Aquagirl. Maybe DC will manage to have nothing horrible happen to her for a couple of months...
Bizarro World will probably get some of my money.
I'm going to end up buying Deadshot and The Question, aren't I? On the other hand, I probably won't be picking up Breach, so I'm not a total sucker for new series.
"A jailhouse wedding goes horribly wrong" in Hard Time. Oh, I can't wait!
Mighty Love is released in soft-cover. I didn't have a blog at the time, so I never got to tell all you lovely people how good the hard-cover was. If you missed it, be sure to pick up the soft-cover edition. You'll thank me for it.
Oh, well, Monolith was good while it lasted. It occurs to me that maybe some advance word on the danger of cancellation could have prompted people to try and raise the books profile, but then I remembered that according to DC it was those nifty book-plates and free copies of first issues that improves sales on faltering titles, not good word-of-mouth from people on-line...
Am I the only one who thinks that Luthor's armor in the first issue of Identity Crisis was a red herring? Because lots of people seem to think that the info for January's issue of Teen Titans seems to suggest that it was some sort of pivotal clue.
Wait...Monolith is cancelled, yet Richard Dragon continues on? There is no justice in the world, is there?
Yeah, I know that we're getting a Seven Soldiers of Victory Archive because of the forthcoming Grant Morrison series, but still...what does and doesn't get put into an Archive doesn't always seem to make much sense.
Someone, somewhere is a little too excited about the Blue Beetle appearing in Justice League Unlimited, I'm sure.
Beyond the DCU
I've not got the slightest interest in any of these...
People tell me that ABC Warriors is good, but I think I'll be content to take their word for it.
Chaos Effect collects two stories I'd long planned on picking up anyway, so $20 seems like a reasonable price to pay for the two of them.
I can tell by looking at the ones that have already come out that the CMX titles are of a superior quality than most other US manga publisher's books, especially in terms of reproduction and paper quality, but I've got to say...story-wise and art-wise, I'm really not interested in anything I've seen so far.
New Planetary, and otherwise I'll be buying the stuff I ususally buy and ignoring everything else.
For the survival of the franchise, DC better hope that Constantine doesn't bomb. I'm already seeing the usual pattern of lots of people who don't buy any Vertigo books buying Hellblazer comics (that I saw with Catwoman and Hellboy and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell...), and if the movie bombs big time we're going to be stuck with a lot of extra trades we won't be able to unload.
Although, that being said, I might be interested in the Rough Cuts trade, as I'm not a fan enough of the character to be particularly interested in following his exploits in either monthly or trade format, so a "Best Of" book might have some appeal.
As for the rest of it, like the Wildstorm books, I'll be getting the same stuff I was already inclined to get, and ignoring the rest.
JSA #66: That was, in all honesty, a fairly predictable ending. As usual, the books appeal is in it's reliance on established DC continuity. As usual, it makes the book an occasionally frustrating read, because I really didn't need to be reminded of Extant.
Challengers of the Unknown #5: It's good. It's really good. (Come on, it's part 5 of a 6 part mini...I probably won't have anything more worthwhile to say about it until the final issue.)
Ultimate Nightmare #3: After being talked at all last issue, it was nice to get some action scenes thrown in...too bad we've reached the half-way point for this series and we really don't know what's going on yet. I'm guessing there's going to be a huge info-dump in the final issue.
Hawkman #33: Not as good a stand-alone issue as the previous one, but it seems to be setting up a future plot-line with the scientist experimenting on villains. A nice diverting read, but that's about it.
Ex Machina #5: I guess I'm the only person who actually liked the idea that the killer was someone totally unconnected to the main cast. Overall, I think the first storyline holds up pretty well. The cast is in place and some forward momentum has been achieved.
Fables #30: It's quite nice to get a relaxing, comedic start to the new storyline, especially after the rather grim previous long story ended up. And it's nice to see Prince Charming get something of a comeuppance, finally.
Astro City: A Visitor's Guide: A nice teaser before the next Astro City mini comes out, and a fairly decent Who's Who-esque guide for long-time AC fans, but not really something for a casual reader. But then, are there any casual readers for a book like AC?
She-Hulk #8: Still not feeling this story. Sorry. I just can't be bothered to be interested in the "cosmic" aspects of the Marvel U. Good art and funny story, though.
District X #6: It's still probably the best book with an "X" in the title right now, but I can't help but think this wasn't a six-issue storyline.
Gotham Central #24: Another excellent issue, but you should all know that by now.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #184 and Nightwing #98: Now, I remember events in Act I and Act II of this "War Games" thing moving at a pretty brisk pace. Why is it, then, that Act III is moving so damn slowly?
Hard Time #9: It's back to the cells for Ethan. A new status quo emerges, we learn a little bit more about Ethan's cell-mate, a new storyline starts to emerge, and outside the prison we start to learn, perhaps, a little bit more about what's going on. The trade paper-back is out, go buy it and then play catch up.
Bloodhound #4: Heh, Cleavenger's going to be one of those hard-luck cases who can't win for losing, isn't he? This is good stuff. If you like your heroes with a strong dose of moral ambiguity, this is the book for you (along with Manhunter, and Hard Time, and Fallen Angel, and the new Firestorm, of course...)
Fallen Angel #16: Again, more good stuff, and I should know that by now.
Authority: Move Kev #4: Not quite the laugh-riot the previous issues were, though Ennis does tend to stick some meta-textual commentary into the Midnighter's mouth. His exchange with Kev at the end is very telling. Kev is a prat, though he at least does recognize, even if he won't admit it, that the Midnighter has him pegged.
Milkman Murders #4: I'm not quite sure I care for the pseudo-mystical tone the last issue has taken. It seems to lose track of what the central theme of the first three issues was, namely that what's already beneath the surface is more frightening that what's "out there." By suggesting that the Milkman is some sort of force that Barbara has now been possessed by, it reduces the horror once again to something outside of herself.
Ojo #2: This issue was a bit of a let-down. I'm starting to get a "wait for the inevitable trade" vibe off of it as well.
Tuxedo Gin Vol. 8: After glancing at my manga stacks, apart from Rumiko Takahashi's stuff, this book about a boxer who dies prematurely and is reincarnated as his girlfriend's pet penguin is the only shonen manga I'm reading regularly. It's really a fun little book. The artwork is crisp and clean, and the humor mixes broad slap-stick with character bits well. I think the reason I like it more than most other "boy's comics" is that there's very little of the fan service and juvenalia that usually show up in those comics, and the book doesn't boil down to "we must fight in order to be better fighters so that we can win the big fight" plot-lines. Instead, the emphasis is more on the character's emotional growths, particularly in Ginji learning as a penguin the lessons he should have learned as a man. Plot-wise, the most important development in this issue is the introduction of another person who has been reincarnated as an animal, and her situation, where she has avoided contact with her previous life and embraces her animal side, provides a telling contrast with Ginji's approach. Plus, Tokihiko Matsuura draws a really cute penguin.
And now, more true stories of working in comics retail:
This started with a phone call. Most of the experiences that make me want to rip my hair out start with a phone call:
"What's the name of the game store that you guys do business with?"
It's [Game Store Name].
"And where are they located?"
Right next door to us.
"And what's their phone number?"
It's (xxx) xxx-xxxx.
"And where are they located?"
I swear, I couldn't make stuff like that up if I tried.
And I get this call far too often:
Hello, how can I help you?
"Is it out yet?"
Is what out yet?
Which book would that be?
"The book I special ordered."
And which book did you special order?
"Well, I've only ordered one..."
Yes, but since you haven't told me who you are or what you ordered, and since I don't seem to be telepathic today, could you maybe give me a broad hint...
Having a shared vocabulary with your customers is also essential:
"I'm looking for a dark book."
Well, what do you mean by dark?
Are you talking about tone or subject matter or some quality of the art?
"I just want something dark."
Okay, give me an example of something that fits your definition of dark.
"I want a violent fantasy/horror comic with a strong female protagonist drawn in a cheesecake style."
Oh, well of course, silly me, that's the obvious definition of the word "dark" isn't it.
I've mentioned before the phenomen of parents who bring their kids into the store but refuse to buy any comics for them, or let them buy comics with their own money. It's some weird form of torture as far as I can tell. I saw a new variation of it recently, when a woman brought her ten year old son into the store:
"Okay, you can have one comic."
"Can I get this Yu-Gi-Oh comic?"
"No, you can have Betty and Veronica."
"I don't want that, I want Yu-Gi-Oh."
"Well, the only comic you're going to get is this one. Do you want it or not?"
"Okay then, I guess you don't want any comics."
It's not a funny story, so much as a WTF? story...
And finally, I'm not often driven to infanticide, but this kid came very close to accomplishing just that:
It's a fairly busy Saturday, the store is full of people, and I'm keeping my eye on the store to see who needs help, who looks lost, and who needs to be watched like I'm a hungry hawk and they're a baby chick venturing out of the nest for the first time. And I see a kid, not quite ten years old, saunter up to the rack where all the "New This Week" graphic novels are on display, reach up to the top shelf where I usually keep the "Mature Readers" books, grab a copy of the Dawn of the Dead trade paper-back, and quickly duck around an inconvenient corner in the store with it.
Oh, there will be none of this, I think to myself. So I casually walk over, find the kid a little too intent on the scenes of carnage in the comic, and politely say: I'm sorry, but this is a mature readers book. I need your parent's permission to let you look at it.
The kid, looking not the least bit apologetic, says he's sorry and continues to wander around the store. His actual expression would best be summed up as "yeah, you caught me doing something I'm not supposed to do, but you can't do anything else about it than take the book away."
So, I go about my business. And a few minutes later I hear a woman's voice, a little too loudly, "What, all the comics are dirty?"
I look up, see that little bastard with a smirk on his face pointing at me and saying "That's what he said."
So, that's Sanity and Rationality: 0, Kids Who Have Their Parents Completely Buffaloed: 2,350,674
(My kid brother Andy found out I have a web-site...it was either let him write something or hear him sulk over Thanksgiving. I'm sorry, we'll get back to our regular stuff soon, I promise. At least he didn't get ambitious and change my page design or anything...)
Hey, aren't comic books jsut swell?
I'm so lokoing forward to all these new variant covers that all the publisherss are doing.
I hope' they start doing foil covers to.
I know that (bold)Street Figheter(bold) comic has foils cover, but I don't read manga so I never bouht any.
mnga is really creeyp, you know. it's all just jap girls getting raped by tentacles.
Not that I ever bouhgt any. couse I only read super hero comics.
I'm so glad that Hal Jordan is back. Its too bad they didn't kill off tht Kyle character. They really shold. it would be only fair to those of yus who kep buying the book al that time he was in it. but i guess we sent the messge to DC that we really wanted Hal back by dhowing our diedication to the book all this time, waiting for them to bring Hal back.
Brain Bendis sure is a good writer. He always keeps me on the edge of my seat. Theres just so muhc action in all of teh books he rites.
Dont you wish that Jim Lee and Michal Turner could draw every comic book? There like totally the betst artis (bold)ever!!!!(bold) Much etter than that Lee Kirby guy that the guy behind the conter at the comic shop i go to is alwys talking about. Hedrew a lot of books along time ago, i guess Old artists are teh suck. They like didnt now about anatmy or something cause all thier figuers look wrong, not like the ones eople like todyas arttists draw.
now thats good art.
And whats with all the kids i see coming into he comic shop larely? I mean, I'm and adult bying comics and the store should want to keep me happy. Bt all i was doing was talking to my firend Paul about how its too bad that Sue Dibhny got called inthat Crisis on Identieis book because now I can't use her in the proposal i'm writing for dc. it all about the eroitc lives of hte supe-heroes. It's exactly the kind of thing the (bold)real fans(bold) want to read. Hey, maybe i can have him hook up with black Canary, what do yuo think?
Anyway, kids, all they read ar these weird books that i'm suprised they even make and that nmaga stuff whuich they really shouldnt because I don't think kids should read about that kind of stuff in thos mang a books.
--Oh, I got linked to by Bookslut...that explains the big spike in traffic.
So, any new readers I've picked up lately, welcome.
--Okay, I wasn't going to mention this, as many people proved to be kind of touchy about the subject, but it's one of the few occasions when my generally low opinion of mankind wasn't confirmed. We've only had two people come in and ask us about Christopher Reeve merchandise. Usually when a celebrity dies we're flooded with requests for stuff with their picture on it. I mean, I still get regularly asked for anything with Dale Earnhardt on it.
And, of course, I still get people asking me if I have any "911" comics...It's an ill-wind that no one tries to profit off of, clearly.
--(Yes, by doing the two huge review posts on Tuesday I've run out of material for today, because the only books I haven't reviewed yet are Authority: Human on the Inside and Scandalous and I'm not particularly in the mood to talk about either this morning, so I'm desperately trying to find something interesting to say...)
--Worldwatch is actually selling fairly well for us. I flipped through the most recent issue and it was more of the same, more or less. I did find the idea of a Captain Marvel-esque hero who is gay but whose mortal side is a homophobe briefly amusing, but I can't help but think the concept would have worked better in the hands of a more capable writer. Which is not to say that Austen is bad, because he's not. He's a perfectly capable writer. But that's pretty much damning with faint praise isn't it?
--Diamond saw fit to send us only less than half of our copies of Ultimate Nightmare, but shorted us one copy of Secret War. If the ratio had been reversed we'd still probably have plenty of left-over copies of Secret War. Long gaps in the publication schedule, a high price-point, and nothing actually happening in any given issue seems to be killing people's interest in Bendis' magnum opus.
--We got the new Adventures of the Fly trade in from Archie, and boy-howdy, did they ever want you to know that Jack Kirby worked on the Fly. He's name-dropped all over the place in that book.
Funny, the name "Dan DeCarlo" doesn't appear once in Archie's Best of Josie and the Pussycats book...
--Fanboy Rampage has gotten...Interesting in Graeme's absence (not that it wasn't a required daily read before, but now it's "interesting", with meanginful quote marks). I especially dig Chris Butcher of Comics 212's round-up of fan reaction to an HIV character appearing in Green Arrow. What I find most interesting is that it drives home once again for me that, despite the perception that many people seem to like to spread that comics fans are overwhelmingly liberal in their politics, most comic fans, in actual fact, veer towards the conservative side of the political spectrum, with many edging towards the reactionary in their politics. Were I a cruel man, I would suggest that perhaps there's a link between the infantile morality of super-hero comics and the id-based politics of contemporary American conservatism. But I get people annoyed enough with me as it is, without having to bring politics into it.
Dark Water by Meimu and Koji Suzuki:
I'm one of those people who tend to think that "horror" just doesn't work well in comics form. And while the stories in this collection are certainly creepy, they aren't really scary. There's a touch of the Lovecraftian to them. All of the menace in the stories comes from the suggestion of what might be going on, rather than an explicit shock or graphic scare. The limited scope of the stories, all involving water in some way, makes it hold together thematically, but the stories themselves are often too brief to really get a feel for the characters or what's happening to them. The exception being the titular lead story, which still feels oddly distanced from the characters. The art, by Meimu, is gorgeous however. The figures are very elegant and elongated and are very lovely to look at.
Descendants of Darkness Vol. 1 by Yoko Matsushita:
I picked this up on a whim, one week when nothing very appealing manga-wise had shipped. The premise is that the main characters are agents of the underworld, collecting souls that have lingered on Earth too long. The figure work is very pretty, with lots of cute boys, if that's what you like in your shojo comics. Storywise, I found it to be pretty pleasantly engaging. There's a vague aura of supernatural menace to the situations the agents of Death get into, and some nice character driven humor (including a cute, self-deprecating gag about how this "isn't a yaoi comic" despite the many, many pretty boys running around in it).
Fruits Basket Vol. 5 by Natsuki Takaya:
I'll be the first to admit that sometimes my taste in manga can be a bit...pedestrian. This is a very girly book, with lots of teen angst and melodrama, but the artwork is so infectiously...cute I can't help but like it. And again, the humor is heavily character based, with a strong undercurrent of sinister secrets waiting to be revealed, with little pieces of information slowly being fed out, that each volume makes me want to read the next one. So, yeah, this may not be ground-breaking or important work, by any means, but I like it, so there.
Imadoki Vol. 2 by Yu Watase:
If the first volume of this charming series was prologue, than this is where the plot begins in earnest. Tampopo and her gardening club, while navigating through the baroque hiearchy of their exclusive school, end up helping their classmates (though getting forced into helping their classmates might be a better description) whether they like it or not. Again, it's not ground-breaking material, but Watase makes Tampopo such an enthusiastic, kind-hearted, and engaging character you want to read more just to see how her good nature wins out over the cynicism of her spoiled-brat rich-kid peers. And in typical Watase fashion, some plot complications are thrown into the obligatory romance, giving Tampopo the angst necessary to keep her apart from the one she loves until the final volume.
Kindaichi Case Files Vol. 9: The Headless Samurai by Yozaburo Kanari and Fumiya Sato:
I've been enjoying this series since the first volume, and I'm glad to see that otherbloggers are giving it a push on their sites as well. Sato's art is wonderfully expressive and detailed, while retaining a cartoony flavor, and the mysteries are compelling and full of human drama. In fact, this is probably the only true mystery series being published right now that's not sharing a universe with super-heroes or the supernatural or a tie-in to a TV show.
Legal Drug Vol. 1 by CLAMP:
More weirdness from Clamp, but I don't mind. It's their weird, idiosyncratic stuff I like the best. This time around the story involves psychics who run odd errands for a mysterious pharmacist. The character designs are the usual elegant figures I've come to expect from Clamp, though the story is less compelling than most of their work. And in a surprising departure the usual ambiguity about the sexuality of the characters is pretty explicit here. The characters, all pretty boys of course, just scream out "gay-gay-gay" on every page. I've seen fewer longing glances and scenes of men touching men in gay porn. And if you still doubt me, the gag strip in the back of the book should leave you with no doubts. So, it's Clamp, so I'm predisposed to like it, but I think I need one more volume to judge what direction this is going in and how it compares to some of their other works.
Legend of Chun Hyang by CLAMP:
And this is more typical of what I think American readers think of when they think of Clamp. It's a very light-spirited fantasy/adventure comic based on Korean mythology. Chun Hyang is a high-spirited teenage girl struggling against the oppressive rulers of her country, accompanied by Ryong Mong, a man she hates so much it's obvious they're destined to be together as lovers. It's cute, and the art is pretty, with some drop-dead gorgeous character designs, but it's only three short stories, all of which read as fairly generic to me. And despite the "teen" rating and some understated nudity and violence, I'd say that this is a pretty good "kid-friendly" manga title for kids who are curious about manga but are growing bored with the usual "Shonen Jump" stuff, all of which strikes me as both generic and dull.
The One I Love by CLAMP:
For Clamp completeists only. At half the size of your usual manga trade, but the full price, it's a bit of a stretch to justify purchasing it, especially since half of it is not terribly interesting text pieces. The art is pretty, unsurprisingly, and the first story is in color, which is a nice change of pace, but twelve very short stories about girl's feeling insecure about romance doesn't make for a satisfying read.
Tsubasa Vol. 2 by, once again, CLAMP:
I've got a soft spot for Cardcaptor Sakura, so I'm inclined to like this series more than I should. Yes, I think the art is nice. If you can't tell by now, I like the art in Clamp books. The story has lots of appeal to Clamp fans, featuring characters recycled from lots of other Clamp books, but if you're not a Clamp fan, I can see how this could be read as just another action/adventure book with a thin romantic sub-plot etched onto it. It's not bad, as a story, but it's not remarkable either.
City of Heroes #5: If you've been playing the game, you've probably been getting this book for free for months, as I have. However, it's also available for sale through Diamond, so potentially you can pick it up at your local retailer. As a super-hero book goes, it's fairly run-of-the-mill. So far all the stories have been structured in two-part arcs, and it's all fairly accessible. Most everything you need to know is laid out for you from issue to issue. The real appeal of the book, I think, is in it's fan art and fan fiction section, not to mention the possibility of seeing your character appear in the book via one of the occasional contests the game's manufacturers put up on their web-site. Tim Buckley's "Underwear on the Outside" gag strip is fairly clever as well. In any case, Brandon McKinney is doing some very nice art on the book, so while the stories sometimes are unfulfilling, the art is good. This issue's story is the first one that's really intrigued me, as it starts from one of those ideas that are so painfully obvious it's a wonder no one thought of it before: when a hero is accused of a crime, the jury must be made up of other super-heroes. As I said before, the story's execution left a little to be desired, but the art was nice.
Scratch #5: Ends with a whimper. Overall, this was better than most of the super-hero work Kieth has been doing lately, but I got the impression that Kieth had a really strong idea for the beginning and middle of a story, and couldn't think of a satisfying ending.
Swamp Thing #8: Eh. I'll give Josh Dysart's first issue a look if we get a preview copy at the store, but I'm really not terribly interested in this "back-to-basics" approach to the character. If more than a couple of issues of Swampy as an "enigmatic force in the swamp" appealed to people, his first series would have been a best-seller.
Conan and the Daughters of Midora: If you've never read a Conan story before in your entire life, the resolution of this one-shot might have been a surprise to you. Apart from that, this was a fun little Conan story with decent art. Nothing remarkable, save that price-point, but an amusing diversion for Conan fans.
Monolith #9: Ah, and now, apparently, you can say "HIV." The coyness of the last issue regarding what exactly Tilt and Alice were getting tested for got on my nerves. I'm not terribly interested in reading about the Monolith fighting the anti-Monolith, but this book hasn't disappointed me so far, so I'm willing to let it go.
303 #1: Jacen Burrow's art looks exquisite in color. And it's great to see Ennis return to form after the disappointment that his Punisher book has become. It's another story of a hard man doing unpleasant things in a morally ambiguous universe, but Ennis has a knack for making these types of characters human and accessible.
Detective #799: This storyline, which I thought had some potential when it started, is now simply going on too long. In fact, the only thing that pleasantly surprised me about this issue was the realization that the Onyx character that's been showing up is actually the same Onyx that popped up on occasion in the old Green Arrow comic...and I only found that out because I bought the DC Universe Encyclopedia.
Ultimate Spider-Man #66: Note to writers--following up a story-line that was supposed to be tragic and emotionally exhaustive with your idea of a "wacky" comedy is generally not a good idea. I can tell Bendis thinks this tired cliche of a "mind-swap" is comedy gold, but it just doesn't work for me.
Majestic #3: Uhm, it was good, but it sort of suffered a bit from "middle-issue" syndrome. It's not quite the end, but it's got to set up the end, and the last issue had the real "middle." So, yeah, a good read, but it felt a little padded.
Superman/Batman #12: What little story we get here wasn't worth the wait. And the cliff-hanger would have been more effecting if it wasn't for the fact that people get better after getting hit by Darkseid's eye-beams all the time. In fact, isn't one of Darkseid's powers specifically the ability to resurrect people killed by his eye-beams?
Y: The Last Man #27: Again, for those of us who aren't quite willing to prescribe a mystical origin for the events of this series, there's a fairly significant clue as to what may have really happened to Yorick early in the issue.
Teen Titans/Legion Special: So this entire storyline was necessary why again? Oh, that's right, Mark Waid doesn't like the current version of the Legion and didn't want to write about them. Unfortunately, giving the "new" Legion costumes that are mostly variants on what they wore in their 70's incarnation is rather giving the game away, don't you think? I mean, we all know that the die-hard Legion fans won't be happy until the book is returned to its pre-five-year-gap status quo, but they didn't have to be so baldly obvious about it.
Demo #10: After the rather frustrating #9, I was glad to see the book return, and with a story that's more in tone with what I liked about the first 8 issues. Some people have complained about each issue being "incomplete," but really I think that's one of the book's strengths. Yes, there is a disconnect of sorts, but it ties into the larger theme. These people are dissociated from their surroundings and other people, it only makes sense that the story should feel that way too. Ironically enough, for the people making that complaint, this story is probably the most "complete" we've seen. And art-wise, I think this is the strongest I've seen Cloonan. The photo back-grounds are an excellent, strongly "real" counter to her light, almost insubstantial figure work. The overall effect is striking.
And, I never do this, but just about everyone does, so I'll give it a try. Here's what I plan on buying this week, what Pete will get this week, and what we'll both get this week.
My List Bloodhound
Challengers of the Unknown
Strange Killings: Necromancer
Pete's List District X
Marvel Knights 4
Marvel Knights Spider-Man
X-Men: The End Book One Dreamers and Demons
Our List Action Comics
Authority: More Kev
Astro City: A Visitor's Guide
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight
Now, I'll read all of those books I've listed above. Pete will probably read most of the books on my list, and everything on the other lists. So, if you ever wonder why I do or do not review certain books, it's probably because I generally don't bother to review books that are just on Pete's list. Unless they're really noteworthily good or bad.
I really enjoy having to tell parents that they may want to inspect a Spider-Man comic for content before buying it for their four year old. I don't want to have to be the one having to explain to a little kid what the Green Goblin is doing to Spider-Man's girl-friend in that panel, do you?
And here's the really bothersome aspect of this. As far as most parents are concerned, once I tell them that one Spider-Man comic may not be suitable for someone Timmy's age, they hear that as no Spider-Man comics are appropriate for Timmy. Even when I specifically point out to them comics featuring Spidey that are perfectly fine for kids that age. As far as they're concerned, Spider-Man is a dirty adult comic and they won't be buying any Spidey books for their kids. Ever.
So, thank you Marvel. By making sure that the flag-ship Spidey book is too adult for kids, and written exclusively by and for aging fan-boys, you've made my job as a comics retailer just a little bit more difficult than it was already.
Another Conversation I'm Tired of Having With Customers
"Hey, I spend a lot of money here, and since I'm an adult male and not a child or woman, I'd think you'd want to encourage me to shop here, so how about giving me a discount on my purchases?"
Discounts are something of a tricky issue. On the one hand, you do want to encourage your regular customers, especially the ones who spend a lot of money, to continue spending a lot of money at your store. On the other hand, most customer's definition of "lots of money" is $5 or $10 a month. And while discounts do tend to encourage repeat business, they run the risk of making the customer loyal to the discount, not the store. And so the second another store comes along with a better discount you lose that customer.
I'm generally not in favor of discounts. The profit margins in a niche market aren't that good to begin with, and in practical terms the more you discount the more you have to sell to make up for the money you're losing on those books you're selling below the MSRP. And in most areas you simply can't guarantee that you're going to be able to sell that many copies of Hawkeye or Richard Dragon in order to make up for that loss.
We do offer a modest discount at our store, but only for the customers with pull-lists (and pull-lists are a tricky proposistion all on their own I may talk about at some point) and who pay a small deposit so that if someone decides to, you know, ask us to pull multiple copies of about a hundred different titles and then not show up to pick them up, ever, we're not out of too much money for all those unsold books. This only becomes a problem when someone decides that they want to negotiate the discount they can get with me. "You only offer a discount of X%? Well, the store I used to go to offered a Y% discount. If you don't give me a Y% discount, I'll just go back to shopping there!" Because as we all know, the way to win people over and make a good first impression is to make ultimatums.
The most frequent times I'm asked for discounts, however, are on back issues and supplies. People buying back issues seem especially eager for discounts and haggling on the prices. I can't imagine where they picked up this habit. It's been my experience that most of the stores that offer discounts on back issues tend to over-price their back issues in the first place. I mean, sure, saying that your store offers a 25% discount on all back issues sounds good, until you realize that all the comics are marked up at least 40% over the guide price. And that's even if (and it's a big if and getting bigger all the time) the comics were properly graded in the first place. At our store, we're very strict about grading, and so we actually tend to have lots and lots of affordable back issues, because what other stores will call a VF+ in an insane rush of optimism, we'll call a F and wonder "what the hell were these guys thinking, calling this a very fine book." And that saves you a couple of bucks right there. And the price hagglers, honestly, I just can't imagine the mindset. I suppose they're too used to going to dealers and stores that sell comics mostly as a hobby or because they're looking for books for themselves, and so simply don't take the time to educate themselves about pricing and grading, and just want a "good deal." We actually try to run our store like a business. And so when people try to haggle on price with me, I have to ask myself, do these people go to the grocery store and try to get lettuce for forty-nine cents a head instead of fifty-nine cents because they're buying more than one? We're using a currency based financial system in this country, not a commodity based one, haggling is neither necessary nor appropriate. We've priced the back issues at the price we want to sell them at. End of story.
Supplies I can almost see people wanting a discount on. I mean, if you want to buy a thousand comic bags, instead of the usual hundred (or one), it would be appropriate for me to cut you some slack on the price. Especially if you approach the topic politely and without the expectation that I'm automatically going to be willing or able to discount them for you. But no, what I usually get is "You charge X cents for your bags! That's outrageous! The store I used to go to only charged Y cents less!" The thing is, we very carefully only use the best supplies we can find. I've seen the kind of supplies some other stores sell. Here's a hint, a good comic bag should not be yellow, sagging, greasy, or otherwise well on its way to turning back into petroleum.
Or, to put this all in context, if you want good service, you got to pay for good service.
...and I'd like to tell you what the extremely competent employees at Diamond decided not to send us, but it would actually be a shorter list if I just told you what they did manage to send us.
--The only notable thing they didn't send us was our "variant" copy of Wolverine #20. So now we've got frankly more copies of the issue than we'd want, and we have no word from Marvel or Diamond about why we didn't get it or when we can expect it or if we can now return some of these extra copies, except for word from Diamond that "no one" got it. Is that "no one" serviced by the LA ware-house or "no one" period? Who knows. But it does provide a good object lesson in why Marvel's insane variant gimmicks aren't any damn good for anyone...except, possibly Marvel.
--I'm a sucker. I bought that DC Comics Encyclopedia. For a brief moment there I actually had the money for it and I decided that if I didn't buy it I probably wouldn't, ever, and since I'll want it anyway I might as well buy it.
--I'm also a sucker because I bought The One I Love, the new collection of romantic short-stories by CLAMP. It's just under half the length of every other manga collection out there, but the same price point. So, the only people likely to perceive any value-for-money in it are saps like me who feel a strange urge to buy everything with CLAMP's name on it.
--And that's it for now...I'm actually in a bit of a hurry this morning.
Via Irresponsible Pictures comes news of several new titles from Digital Manga: Tenka Musou a ninja/samurai comic, and thus of no interest to me; Cafe Kichijouji de which looks like it might be a nice little absurd comedy, and I likes me the absurd comedies; and Seiyou Kotto Yougashiten about a gay pastry chef, and frankly that's all I need to know about it to want to check it out. The name apparently translates to something like "Antique Pastry Shop" and what I gather from this fan site makes me more curious to read about it.
I've also added Sam Costello's Little Terrors to my side-bar. It's a horror blog from a guy who knows his stuff. Corey, you need to check this one out.
Oh, and I suppose I may as well do some reviews of last weeks books.
Losers #16: The storyline that reveals what, exactly, set the Losers up on their current path begins and my first thought is: Max is really Claude Rains? No, really, it's really quite good, though I am a bit suspicious of the naivete of the Losers regarding the situation they're in.
Green Lantern #181: I'm going to quote Pete for this one: "Who writes this shit? They did all this just to bring back that ass-hole?"
New Frontier #6: Would I be a terrible person if I said that the long wait for this series to conclude made care less about it finally ending. It's a nice series, and it's beautifully drawn, but Cooke is not as strong a writer as he would like to think he is. And while this book is a nice homage to the era, there's not enough meat to the story to really make it stand out as a superior work.
Outsiders #16: It's always nice to see Jurgens work. He's very suited to super-heroic stories. And despite many others complaints, I think Winick's doing an excellent job on this book. And despite some of the fannish complaints, I didn't find the big "event" of the book to be out of character for anyone involved. The last time Nightwing was portrayed as a decent human being George Perez was still drawing him regularly. And there's nothing wrong with that...I sort of feel that Dick Grayson should be kind of an asshat.
Caper #12: Oh, thank God, it's finally over. The first two storylines were great...this one, really really dumb.
Wonder Woman #208: It's more of Rucka's mix of talky politics and mythic action this issue. It definitely has the feel of an "in-between" issue. Not the beginning of the story, but not the end either. And I really like Rucka's take on the Gods.
Adam Strange #1: I like the idea, though it's done to death at times, that outside of the super-hero community nobody believes Adam's stories. Diggle's writing is up to his usual par here, and Ferry's art is simply stunning, especially with Dave McCaig's colors. This is probably one of the best looking books I've seen come out in some time.
Batman #632: Definitely felt like a "getting the pieces into place" issue. Almost like Willingham didn't really have anything planned, so he just threw in a fight scene and got all the players set up for the next issue.
JLA #106: I almost feel like I owe Byrne and Claremont an apology. This is truly the worst JLA story I've ever read, in my life.
That's almost, because as bad as Austen's tripe was, it was only just slightly worse than the garbage Byrne and Claremont did...Hell, between the three of them, they made O'Neil's story look good.
[Blogger Spell-Checker Fun Fact: It doesn't recognize the word "blog"...]
--So, remember how last week I listed a bunch of manga titles that were supposed to ship in September, but hadn't. I also made mention that with my luck they'll all end up shipping the first week of October.
Well, only about half of them are shipping this week...so I wasn't far off.
--Something I maybe should have clarified in this morning's post, is that we really don't see a lot of cross-over in our store between the manga buyers and the buyers of "everything else." And we've got an actual "full-line" store, with a very diverse selection and customers with many and varied tastes. But manga buyers don't seem interested in anything but manga, and people who don't already read manga don't seem too keen on picking any up. The one exception to that rule would be the "New Mainstream" companies (Oni, AIT, some of Dark Horse, some of Vertigo, potentially IDW), and that's probably due to the format of the books vaguely resembling manga books and that the genres covered thematically resemble the stuff the customer is already buying in manga.
--Somebody asked me for a book that was as violent as the current Dark Horse Conan series, only with art that "isn't as cartoony."
So I suggested Groo, because I'm a jerk.
--So, Kid Chris and I were talking at work today, while he was checking back-issues and I was doing inventory, about the potential off-spring of Power Man and Iron Fist. We decided that when the kid grew up, he or she would fight crime under the name "Power Fist." Because a super-hero named "Iron Man" would just be silly.
Manga is variously going to save or destroy the Western comics industry, depending on who you ask. People who like manga are convinced that if only they could get all those JSA and X-Men fans to read Tramps Like Us or City Hunter than they will fall in love with manga and Western comics publishing will start looking more like manga publishing and all the comic book stores and publishers will be saved! Hooray! People who dislike manga, on the other hand, are resentful of the fact that all these kids are reading Fake instead of Spider-Man or The Avengers like they "should" be.
Both sides are, of course, wrong. Manga's audience isn't anything like the Western comics audience and the rise and potential fall of manga has nothing whatsoever to do with the well-deserved (potential) death of the contemporary comics industry. (To borrow a phrase from Mike, since he seems in no hurry to use it, the comics industry we have today is the last, pathetic gasp of a fad that began seventy years ago.) We need to stop pretending that manga and western comics have anything to do with one another, other than occasionally brushing up against one another on book-store shelves.
Which is not, of course, to say that the manga readers don't have their faults. They can be just as tiresome as the super-hero fans and the indie scenesters in their own way. In fact, manga fans seem to largely embody some of the worst negative traits of both the super-hero reader and the art-comix crowd.
To start with, there is often quite a deal of pretension amongst manga fans. I'm not talking about manga fans looking down on those "sad, adolescent" people who haven't evolved past the point of reading super-hero comics, as they go to have their purchase of the latest volume of DragonBall Z rung up, although that element certainly exists amongst manga fans. No, what I'm thinking of most specifically are the people who pretend sophistication because of their deep knowledge and respect of manga, which is the most perfect artistic and literary form ever devised. It's a peculiar form of Japanaphilia, less creepy than the anglo-American men who obsess over J-Pop singers, but annoying nonetheless. It's the people who complained incessantly about manga not being presented in the "authentic" format when most publishers were still flipping and touching up artwork to present it in a left-to-right format. The fact that English is read left-to-right and presenting manga in that format might make it easier for people to read it was irrelevant. Now that most manga is presented in the original right-to-left format, their major concern is that the translations aren't sufficiently "faithful." "By changing the 'san' suffix to 'Mr.' they've completely changed the author's intent!" they cry, weeping into their first edition copies of Manga! Manga!.
This is, of course, when they're not too busy trying to impress you with the fact that they know a particular titles name in the original language, or it's "cute" fans only name. I've lost track of the number of times people have asked me for Furuba or Aa, Megami-sama instead of just asking me for the title that I might actually be able to find it under.
To flip to the other end of the scale, one aspect of manga readership that doesn't get mentioned very often is that many manga fans are actually very limited in their tastes. Despite the staggeringly large diversity of genres that exists in manga, and despite what a lot of manga-boosters would have you believe, most American readers stick very close to one genre. Their narrowness of taste will often put those of the most fanatical super-hero fetishist to shame. But unlike the spandex fetishist, many manga readers will insist that their purchases somehow actually do display an interest in a wide variety of genres and styles. The person who only buys X-Men comics in which Gambit appears at least has some basic honesty in their posistion; they don't try to pretend that they're more open-minded than they're purchasing habits would indicate. But many manga fans will argue that there are actually significant and important distinctions between titles like Chobits and Love Hina and Oh My Goddess and Ai Yori Aoshi and Negima and Urusei Yatsura and Real Bout High School and they're not just buying titles that feature under-age Japanese school girls topless and/or in panties, dammit!
Now, it is perhaps unfair to blame manga for the short-sightedness of it's detractors, but there are a couple of comments from the anti-manga peanut gallery that manga publishers have sort of brought upon themselves. First is the notion that manga is a fad. People making this complaint really haven't been looking up from their DC and Marvel comics long enough to realize what's been going on in the comics industry for the last twenty years, and now that they have they look around them and see all these (gasp)women! and (shock!) children buying these strange-looking black-and-white paperbacks instead of reverently placing the most recent issue of Jim Lee's Superman into an acid-free bag-and-board as all comics readers should be. For them, dismissing manga as a "fad" comforts them, and makes them forget that they're the graphic entertainment version of a dodo--getting eaten into extinction by Dutch sailors because they're too stupid to learn how to adapt to changing circumstances. Never mind that this "fad" began a good twenty or so years ago when Eclipse tentatively released some translations of Japanese comics into direct market stores to see if anyone would bite. No, what we're really seeing is more of a "bandwagon." Tokyopop decided to bite the bullet and throw a bunch of manga out in book-form to see if anyone would care...and they wisely decided to hell with the direct market and pushed to get the books into bookstores where the target audience for the kinds of material they were publishing would see it. And it worked. Very well. So every other manga publisher decided to follow suit. And it worked. Very well. And so other publisher have seen that it works very well to put book-form stories in book-stores and want a piece of that pie for themselves. To someone who was so engrossed in whether or not Peter Parker was a clone or the unflinching virgin purity of Gwen Stacy, all of these manga books suddenly appearing in Previews and where the Kingdom Come and other nostalgia-wanks used to be at Borders, it must look remarkably like, oh, say, the black-and-white comics boom, or the chromium comics boom, or the bad-girl comics boom, or the Crossgen comics boom (oh, wait, that one never actually happened). So, to a certain extent, manga publishers could have done more to differentiate their success from the other bubble-economies that the direct market has gone though over the years. On the other hand, screw the direct market and what it thinks seems to be a business strategy that's worked well for manga.
The other potentially valid, they've-brought-this-on-themselves, issue that manga publishers face and I unfairly blame them for, is the issue of the manga glut. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of manga titles coming out each month now. I think Tokyopop alone accounts for about three or four inches of previews each month. But at this point, manga publishers are still seeing what the market will bear. Not the direct market, Dear God no, but the book-store market, which is several orders-of-magnitude larger than the direct market and therefore potentially more able to handle a wide variety of back-stock and new releases. No, the real issue with the two million or so different manga titles that come out each month is that the overwhelming majority of them are absolutely terrible. Badly drawn, derivative, cliched, and the only reason I give the writing a pass is that all I have to go on are the English translations, which are generally artless in the extreme. It's not too much manga we have to fear, it's the tidal wave of crap swamping the worthy titles. As it gets harder and harder for readers to find the wheat amongst the chaff, we run the risk of manga readers losing interest, or worse yet, losing critical discernment. And again, manga publishers and there "throw everything out there and see what sells" approach is largely to blame. Well, no, Tokyopop is largely to blame, to be honest. With most of the other manga publishers I can be reasonably certain that even if something is not to my taste, it still has some merit to someone. With Tokyopop we're lucky if one of the 4,000 titles they release each month is worth reading.
The top search term for my site for the month of September was Nanny Dickering. I'm not quite sure why this would be. The only times I've ever mentioned Nanny Dickering were in passing refrences to Bill Ward or John Severin or Cracked magaine. Yet, people keep looking for Nanny Dickering and getting my site as a result. I'm even on the first page of Google results for the phrase Nanny Dickering, though I'm not yet the first result that comes up for Nanny Dickering...yet...
Bad Mojo, by William Harms and Steve Morris, published by AIT/Planet Lar
I wasn't sure if the book was supposed to be funny or creepy, and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. The set-up for the story is fairly straight-forward: three friends, driving at night, one of them falls asleep at the wheel and gets into a car accident with a witch who curses him. It becomes a comedy of errors, jumping back and forth in time to show the consequences of one unlucky accident and the attempts by the three men in the car to get themselves out of the situation they've found themselves in. It's very easy to sympathize with the leads, as all the characters they interact with are alternately unhelpful, insane or simply malicious and vindictive. The art by Steve Morris is amazingly expressive, and the book is done in a blue-gray tone which highlights the supernatural/spooky elements nicely. I'm planning on putting together a Halloween themed display for the store, and this book will fit in nicely there.
Spaghetti Western by Scott Morse, published by Oni
I'm a big fan of Morse's work, and have been ever since I discovered the first volume of Soulwind. His art is very appealing and expressive and he's a master of subtle emotional expression both in his art and his story-telling. He's also got a great eye for design, and this book is no exception. It's bound on the side, and each page is one panel, with black "wide-screen" borders at the top and bottom of each page. Combined with the sepia tones, you come away with the overall impression of "reading" a movie. And that's an important point, as how movies shape us is a strong theme in the book. The story is simple: two men rob a bank, dressed as characters from old westerns. Things go wrong. The real story is revealed in a marvelously placed flash-back, which reveals why these two men have decided to rob a bank in cowboy costumes. Again, it's the subtle emotion that Morse does so well coming through. You understand why these men did what they did and sympathize with them, especially in light of the actions of the other bank robber who happens to be at the bank that day. There may be "no good guys," but there's still a difference between good men and bad men. All-in-all, an excellent book.