Thursday, 23 January 2014

Eternal Warrior #5

If you’ve been reading Archer & Armstrong, the first four issues of Eternal Warrior felt like the arc we didn’t need to have. It wasn’t bad, it just felt a bit unnecessary, although I imagine the point was to make it as new-reader friendly as possible.

Eternal Warrior #5 breaks completely from the first arc, hurtling us forward to the year 4001. The gods are all dead, and our immortal hero, looking a little grey around the edges, is leading a tribal community in a post-Apocalyptic looking stretch of Earth. They are attacked by a machine/monster hybrid, which is slain to reveal a radioactive warning. Recognising this creation for the danger that it is, the Eternal Warrior takes his people to a fallout shelter he created some century or more ago, saving them from the atomic blast. Temporarily, anyway. He sets off to find the source of the machine and, hopefully, a cure for the radiation that will kill his tribe.

While I didn’t think this issue was fantastic, I liked it better than issues #1 through #4, and it’s the setup of what I think will end up being a fun little arc. The most interesting thing about a character like this is the versatility it affords a writer, and I hope Greg Pak continues to play off that and gives us more stories scattered through various points in history/the future.

Robert Gill is the new guy on art this arc and I think his style suits Pak’s script perfectly, giving the year 4001 an Anime-esque look – I was reminded of something like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I’m not familiar with anything else Gill has done, but will be keeping an eye out for his name in the future. I don’t know what Valiant’s plans are, but I’d be very happy for Gill to stick around for the long haul, although that generally hasn’t been the case with Valiant artists.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Harbinger of Spoilers

I avoid reading monthly solicits for the same reason I avoid spoilers when I’m going to watch a movie. It’s nice (or not) to know when a title is being cancelled or that a creative team is changing, but outside of that I’d like to leave what little element of surprise is possible when everyone else is reading/posting about solicits.

It’s annoying, then, when a major plot element such as the death of a character is not only revealed in the solicit, but then announced as a press release by the publisher. As is the case with Harbinger in April.

Oh sure, they don’t say who, but it’s not hard to guess – obviously it’s not Peter or Faith, Kris is very unlikely, leaving Torque, who’s death has been teased before in a throwback to the original Harbinger run, and Flamingo, who is the least developed character and really hasn’t really done anything since her introduction issue. Hmmm!

I can understand the intent is to drum up some interest with folks who may have dropped the book, but for someone like me who has been there since issue 1, I’m annoyed that any surprise/shock I might have experienced reading the issue was ruined by the hundred posts on twitter and front page articles on comic sites.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Harbinger #20

I’ll admit to being a bit of a Valiant fan-boy. Part of the reason is that I got on at the ground floor with these guys, but the bigger part of the reason is that they tend to be the strongest collection of books I get each month. Yeah, they’ve had their misses, but for the most part they’ve been consistently good, and the writing talent they’ve accrued has been top shelf. My favourite book probably alternates between Archer & Armstrong and Harbinger each arc, and after reading through Harbinger #20 it has swung back towards the Rebel psiots.

If I have had one criticism about Harbinger – and Bloodshot too – is that things have been so centered on the PRS/Harada/Rebels storyline since day one. I have no doubt that that’s been exactly their strategy - and Harada himself is an essential part of Harbinger rather than just the antagonist - but I kind of yearned for a tale removed from Harada, the Rebels vs. some new, outside threat. Then I read #20 and you know what... I take that back. Let’s stick with this Harada guy for awhile and see where Dysart takes us.

Harada gives the finger to the world, declaring himself benevolent dictator, and quickly becomes a hero of the Left, bringing home a Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile a young, talented hacker leaks PRS documents that link the disgraced organisation back to Harada. The Rebels hardly make an appearance in this one, which drives home the fact that there’s a reason this book isn’t titled ‘The Rebels’. Harada is a multi-dimensional character, ruthless yet with a clear set of principles, who feels that the end justifies the means.

I recently went back and read Harbinger from issue #1 to now, and the tone of this issue is closer to the first couple of arcs, which I think suits Dysart’s style of writing perfectly. Dysart is channelling something near his work on Unknown Soldier – he is writing about themes that interest him personally and it shows. Great stuff.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Groundhog's Say #1.NOW - aka. tl;dr

It really irks met when Marvel (in particular, but not exclusively) finish up a series, only to re-launch the title a short time later with a shiny big #1 on the cover. The sucky thing is that, from a business standpoint, it works. Looking at the sales figures monthly, there is a downward trend – outside of your Avengers/Batman titles - correlating with the distance of that issue from issue #1. But hey, re-launch the title with a new #1, and it rockets back up the charts! For a month, at least.

For readers and collectors, the belief that the #1 on the cover is going to lead to the comic being worth a fortune one day is a foolish one. That ‘Mighty Avengers #1’ you picked up back in September? Yeah, well over 100,000 other people picked that up too, and many of those folks bagged and boarded that sucker. This aint the golden age of comics where we’re going to see contemporary Marvel/DC titles selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars in 30 or 40 years – there’s just too many of them out there in immaculate condition. Comics are only ever worth what someone will pay for them, and for every dollar you spend on a comic that ends up having some value down the line, you’ve no doubt spent many, many more on ones that won’t. You’d be better off sticking to TPBs and using the left over cash to buy shares. Or food.

Apart from parting collectors with their cash, the waves of re-launches creates a more serious problem for me. By re-launching these titles for the short-term sales gains I think they are diluting their own histories. When you pick up issue #300+ of a series, you can’t help but get a sense of the long history behind these characters  – 25 years if we are talking monthly releases – and you just don’t get that picking up an Avengers #1 NOW, whatever the hell that means. Yeah, theoretically this is the same Captain America that once fought in WWII vs. Hitler, but each re-launch makes those stories from the past feel more and more removed from the modern characters – like this is a reboot rather than a re-launch.

If Marvel and DC are worried about giving readers a jumping on point for their titles, why not bring out a yearly publication for each of their main books giving a summary of recent history and where the various characters are at? Make this publication free – like a little comic book newspaper. When I got back into comics a few years back I wish this existed. I was all Marvel back in the day, but I found the current X-titles to be completely unrecognisable. 20 real life years had passed. Needing to read 15 TPBs worth of crossover events to get up to speed is not something I’m willing to do. DCs ‘New 52’ relaunch actually worked out perfectly for me given that I had no familiarity with most of the DC characters. Even so, having some kind of reference would also have worked well for me, while not having the effect of alienating long time readers and wiping all the great stories from their character’s past out of the current timeline.

If Marvel and DC want people to read their books, publish good stories. Refrain from gimmicks like holographic covers and re-launched titles that offer short term profits over long term. Come up with ways of attracting new readers and getting them up to speed that doesn’t involve punishing existing readers. It seems obvious to me.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Groundhog's 'Best of 2013' List - The Golden Drek Award

Unfortunately, for every spectacular comic release each calendar year, there are many others which... well... suck. The Golden Drek Award recognises the release or event which achieved a level of drek that was beyond approach by all its peers. To appreciate the highest of mountains, we must first visit the lowest of valleys, and the Golden Drek Award winners represents that lowest of low vantage points from where we may marvel upwards at those peaks, and in doing so gain even further appreciation of the heights that can be reach in the comic book medium.

Although there were a number of worthy candidates this year, our inaugural winner of the Golden Drek Award goes to...

DC’s VILLAINS MONTH (yes, every freakin’ bit of it)

Has there ever been a more blatant cash grab in recent comic book history than DC’s ‘Villains Month’? As if the 3D effect on the covers wasn’t enough, it was as if the villains on those covers had actually leapt off the page and dipped into our wallets three extra times. That overused comic book plot device, time travel? Yeah, well I guess DC thought it might make it an easier pill for readers to swallow in story arcs to come by trying to transport their readers back to the 90s where gimmicks like this nearly killed the industry. Yeah, it drove sales up for DC this month, both through the additional releases for the big books as well as people running out to pick up all those shiny, reflective “collectors items” that won’t be worth a dime down the line, but screwing over your fans for short term financial gain is probably not the best way to go about your business.

But you know what, If the releases had been good, you would almost forgive them. With the right talent and planning, you could pen great one-shot stories involving the various villains. That was naturally not what happened. Did every issue suck? No. Count Vertigo and Arcane managed to flesh out key villains and at least felt like they had a strong link to the title – the fact that they were written by the regular series writer and only had a single release helped. Mongul and Darkseid were both enjoyable one-shots. Were they essential? No. Could they have been told more naturally outside of a gimmicky event? Absolutely.

So thank you, DC, for your greedy disregard for your fan base, for by doing so you help us appreciate the publishers who aren’t quite so blatantly evil.

Special Mention: Age of Ultron