About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Funny Book Round-Up - Holiday Edition

The weekend of The Big Sit, I also managed to make my way through a few weeks of accumulated comic books, so let's do a quick check in...

Batwing was one of the best debut issues in the New 52, but it seemed to be fading, almost as if Judd Winick had been surprised that the book was successful and didn't have a lot of scripts mapped out, or as if he was ordered to tie in to the main Batman continuity in ways that were at odds with his own vision for the series, making for some awkward issues trying to meld the corporate mandate with his vision.  So maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that Winick left the series, and I am encouraged by issue #15 with new writer Fabian Nicieza.  Nicieza's first issue isn't great, but it is a reasonably self-contained story that begins things back to basics a little, focusing on the things Winick was doing in the earliest issues of the series that made Batwing interesting to read, his mythology instead of Batman's.  The art by Fabrizio Fiorentino gets the job done.  We'll see, but at least I'm willing to see, whereas I think if Winick had remained on the series I might not have remained with Batwing.

Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have been doing some interesting work reviving old characters into the DC Universe and are doing it again with Human Bomb #1. They get a lot of press for their Jonah Hex, which I've never liked as much as the classic Hex tales I was reading 25 years ago, I think their work on titles like and The Ray isn't getting the attention it deserves.  Who is Human Bomb?  It's hard to know, and that's part of the fun of the series, that it's asking questions about the character that I'm eager to know answers to.  In this series, they are getting great support from Jerry Ordway is the perfect artist. The script plays to his strengths, and he plays back -- I think this is some of the best work I've seen from him, dating back almost 30 years to when he was working on All Star Squadron and co-creating Infinity Inc.  Like All-Star Squadron, there's a period feel and a military ex-mil milieu, the sort of thing he does This plays to his strengths, and he nails it with clean lines and impeccable storytelling.

The Simpsons Winter Wingding #7 was a rare dud from Bongo.  One story that kind of gave me a smile.  But Bongo redeems itself with a solid Simpsons #197, wherein Homer creates a bacon-filled hamburger creation that becomes all the rage at Krusty Burger, only to have his new-found success fall apart around him when he feels sorry for Lisa and decides to make it into a veggie burger instead.  In classic Simpsons tradition, there's more going on.  Worth reading.  Very curious to see how they will handle the 200th issue of this consistently entertaining all-ages title.

Dan Didio and Brent Anderson take lead as writer and penciller for Phantom Stranger #3.   Doctor 13 is in this issue.  This is an intriguing new series, not sure entirely where it's going, but I continue to like having a mainline DC title that's giving a little room to some of the less familiar but interesting occult characters in the DC Universe.

Animal Man and SwampThing #15. Rotworld.  This crossover seemed like a good idea at the time, and it started off interestingly, but it's degenerating into long fight scenes spread over multiple titles with no human or character interest from me.  I currently expect that I will resume reading these titles, both of which had been excellent parts of the New 52, only after conclusion of this ever more dreary crossover.

If Rotworld has been disappointing, the Joker's return to the Batman titles in the Death of the Family crossover has been everything a crossover should be.  Even though it's spread across multiple titles, the writers and editors have done a reasonably good job of keeping stories that can be read within a particular series without having to go picking up titles you don't want in order to enjoy those you do (in all fairness, they've tried this also with Rotworld, they haven't executed as well).  While I could stick with just the books I've been reading, the overall strength of the crossover is such that I've been picking up Batman and Robin and Rod Hood and the Outlaws, which I hadn't been reading.  This particular batch of titles included issue #15 of those two titles as well as Batman, Batgirl and Nightwing.  The main Batman title written by Scott Snyder is excellent, especially considering that it's mostly an info-dump, a lull in the action designed to put this series into its overall context within the historical continuity of Batman.  If you want one way to tell a good fantasy novel from a not-so-good, look at how the writer handles a necessary flashback scene that is intended to reveal vital back story that you've been anticipating or which is absolutely crucial, the best writers can always nail those scenes and make them centerpieces of a novel, lesser writers less so.  Scott Snyder shows here why he is generally one of the best writers at DC right now, why I will forgive him and Jeff Lemire that Rotworld is disappointing.  Batman and Robin and Batgirl both focus directly on the Joker's plots against the individual characters, and with good story and art do an excellent job of bringing the intensity of the series, the crazed brilliance of the Joker's scheme, directly to the reader.  Jobs well done.  For a more detailed review of these two titles, I'd suggest clicking over to the AV Club.  Nightwing was trying to do the same, but doesn't quite achieve.  The character Joker's using to get at Nightwing isn't a character that's all that interesting or integral, I didn't care as much here as I did when Joker was using Batgirl's mother as bait, or taking direct aim at Robin.  Red Hood and the Outlaws was the weak link, the Outlaws team is such a random assortment of characters without a particular connection to the Bat universe, Red Hood not as interesting as he should be considering the efforts made to give him some texture and back story in a Red Hood: Lost Days mini-series by Judd Winick in 2010, which I quite enjoyed.  Catwoman #15 is not part of the Death of the Family crossover, I keep thinking I should be reading this book but too often when I try it disappoints.

From the Superman side of things:  Superman #15 is a disappointing revamp of the Mr. Mxyzptlk character by Grant Morrison.  Superboy is part of the H'El on Earth crossover, which is midway between Rotworld and Death of the Family, good enough to keep me reading titles I've been reading but not so good that I want to read others.  That said, Superboy #15 was solid, more than, putting Superman into the Superboy series, and perhaps good enough that I'll take a whack at the next Supergirl.  Or not.

And on the distaff side:  Sword of Sorcerty Featuring Amethyst #3.  This new series is just good enough to make me keep reading, in part out of fond memories of the original series, but leaves me unsatisfied.  This series should be better.  All of the characters look the same, too much shared gene pool in the different Gemworld houses perhaps.  The series needs to do more to find a way to differentiate them, that's something I wish the writer Christy Marx or her editor Rachel Gluckstern had picked up on.  There are some high stakes in the battle for control of the Gemworld but not a tight enough focus on them.  I decided to take a look at Wonder Woman, in part because it's introducing the New Gods into the New 52, and also, the art seemed a little more accessible to me than when I had looked at the book previously.  I'm not entirely sure I understood everything that was going on, but the issue was good enough that I'll come back and give #16 a try.

Finally, I'm not entirely sure I understand everything that's going on in Saucer Country, but it's consistent, mostly enjoyable, and issue #10 was solid.  The series had a great start, it hasn't held at quite as great a level as the start promised, but it's holding.

The Comic Book Revolution website has a series of posts on sales figures for the New 52, in various categories from All-Star to Death Watch.    Obviously a lot of the books aren't selling a year out the way they did in the fervor of the New 52 launch.  And for a lot of these books like Firestorm or Teen Titans, I hope DC realizes some of the steepest sales drops are reflective of inconsistent quality, books that had intriguing starts that got away from the over-long fight or the over-done crossover, but where it was abundantly clear that little attention had been paid to what was going to happen in Issue #4, and everyone sat around and let things regress to being just like they were before the New 52.  Firestorm was a mess, endless pointless battles with Firestorms of other nations, something that in the 1970s might have been done as three six-page sections in a 21-page story, and here it was four entire issues.  A ton of books were losing two-thirds of their readership over the course of a year.  And why did a book like Nightwing lose a much smaller percentage of readers?  Well, because Nightwing has been consistently entertaining.  In some instances, DC has used the #0 issues in September to try for a re-boot, and maybe in some cases they will succeed.  And on the whole, I'm still reading more DCU titles now by a huge measure than 18 months ago, it's my gut instinct that the New 52 as as whole has been more successful than the impression of it that's given by these charts and their analyses.  Still, there are too many books like Flash or Teen Titans that have had fading sales because the creative end was fading within six or eight issues of launch.

And just to say, this is something that I pay a lot of attention to at JABberwocky.  First, no series sells better in its 5th book than in its 1st, people are always surprised when I tell them this because you'll find over the course of a series that it builds a core loyal following that can grow in intensity, more people want the new book right when it comes out so issue #5 might sell faster out of the gate.  But it doesn't actually sell better, which is logical enough that some percentage of people who sample pretty much anything will decide they don't like it.  But after you get to the third in a series, do you pretty much keep what you have through book #5 or book #8?  Does a series fall to where you hold 60% of the readers or 40% of them?  The top-selling authors at JABberwocky like Charlaine Harris or Brandon Sanderson are that way because an exceptionally strong percentage of readers who sample (because of a True Blood, a collaboration with Robert Jordan, or good word of mouth) come back for a second issue, and an exceptionally strong percentage of people who get to book #3 with the author are then fans for life.  The New 52 has way too many books that have lost two-thirds of their readers, and that isn't pre-ordained.  It's bad planning and/or bad creative execution.   The interesting thing when they talk about the Bat books, there was a lot of sampling as a result of the Court of the Owls crossovers, and none of the books were able to hold audience from that sampling.

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