Saturday, November 16, 2013

Have Comic Book #1 Issues Lost Their Impact?

I know I carry on a lot about my early days of comic book collecting, but I think I do have a point that that was a very good time in the industry. Every new series launch felt like an event, and for a few years there, a new #1 issue was a very big deal and a bit of an event.

By limiting the number of launches, Marvel could run advertisements like these, and by having such a small amount of new #1's, people had a chance to try out each and every one:

Perhaps it could be tied to the time period in which this happened, but four of those six titles went on for five years. The only exceptions were Nth Man, which I don't think hit #20; and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which still was the longest-running S.H.I.E.L.D. comic book to date at something like 47 issues.

This plan would also be implemented the next year with the "Heroes for the 90's" campaign that launched New Warriors, Ghost Rider, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Man, among others; and 1991, which gave us Wonder Man and two of the biggest-selling comic book launches of all time -- X-Men and X-Force.

Now, even before the whole "Marvel Now/New 52" relaunch trend, we often get multiple new series launches in a single week. How can anyone try anything new?!?

Jim Lee's X-Men #1. It was awesome.
Beyond that, the issue #1/relaunch thing is getting incredibly old, to the point that a new #1 issue means very little anymore. Even with the previously-mentioned X-Men #1, it was a huge deal at the time because, aside from Annuals, Giant Size issues, or reprint series, it was the first time since since 1963 there had even been an X-Men #1. The Jim Lee art certainly helped, too.

Compare that to two weeks ago, when Amazing X-Men #1 hit... itself something like the fifth X-Men #1 in the past two years! What's the big deal there? Yes, the content of the story surely helped too, but historically, will it matter? Will it be worth anything years down the line, when it's nothing that special in the collectible scheme of things?

Aside from the new series launch trend, there's also the issue of constantly relaunching and renumbering a long-running series. As a collector of 25+ years, it makes me a little sad, partly because issue numbers were a big part of my collecting background. It was always fun to me to know I started buying Wolverine at issue #4 (1988's issue #4) and now the book was at #156, or something like that. Now, both DC and Marvel are guilty of messing with that legacy a bit, and it seems to only be getting worse, with recent relaunch announcements for several series.

Wolverine #1... take six.
At least the new costume is cool.
For example, the latest solicitations reveal Wolverine is getting another relaunch, only a year after the previous one. Pretty soon, we'll all be able to have long boxes full of Wolverine #1 issues. I understand there is a temporary bump when a new #1 is coming, as people see it as a possible jumping on point, but aren't we at the point where it's getting a little ridiculous, especially as it's the same writer as the previous series?

Not counting satellite series like Wolverine: The Best There Is, Wolverine: Origins, and Savage Wolverine, but still including Wolverine: Weapon X as it was included in the tally that took the previous volumes to issue #300, this will now be the sixth Wolverine #1 in 30 or 31 years, if you also include the original four-issue miniseries. Can someone honestly say that Wolverine volume 6 #16 will sell better than Wolverine #340 would, as long as the content is good? I doubt it. In fact, these lower-numbered books would (I assume) make it difficult for fans to seek out back issues, not knowing what it is they need. The comic book companies probably don't care, they want you buying trade paperbacks and digital copies, but what they forget is that for a long time, back issues were an extra source of income that kept the lights on in comic book specialty shops. The back issue market probably won't ever explode like it did before again, and that's too bad, but as a young collector, seeking out back issues was one of my favorite things.

(Not just picking on Marvel here: I'm sure Batman written by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo would sell just as well at #725 as it would at #25. The content on the inside really helps. At least, though, Batman has only been restarted once vs. six times.)

The cover for issue #1 of The
Punisher's second ongoing series.
Yes, the cover really was that shiny.
The constant relaunches have also, I think, hurt characters like The Punisher. Yes, having 3 different ongoing series at a time certainly messed things up too, but I think it's a lot easier to cancel a comic book at issue #18 than it is at #121. But that's exactly what happened -- the John Ostrander and Tom Lyle Punisher series -- which was a fantastic read, by the way, and sounds a bit like the upcoming Wolverine relaunch -- was axed after a year and a half. Would they have been so quick to pull it if it had been one of the mainstays of their line for 9 years? I doubt it.

All-New Punisher NOW! #1.
At least unlike the last few series,
he has a decent cover logo.
Marvel has yet another Punisher #1 coming out in a few months... and chances are good it won't make it to #25, simply because it's like the boy who cried wolf: It's like the 9th Punisher launch, and people don't care anymore. Which is sad, as there have been some really good Punisher books in recent years. (The Greg Rucka series as well as Marc Guggenheim's recent two-issue mini were very good reads) Makes you wonder how it would have been if the Rucka issues had been issues #260-280 of an ongoing narrative and Guggenheim's issues were #281 and #282. (Issue numbers are guesses, not accurate math)

The same thing happened to Silver Surfer, who hasn't had a significant ongoing since his own title was canceled in the late 1990's. I think I read somewhere that the Galactus The Devourer miniseries was supposed to be issues #145-150 of his series -- if that had been the case, with John Buscema artwork, among other things, I think it might have brought sales up anyway. The Surfer is getting another chance at his own title in a few months -- but even with top-level talent involved, will it get lost in a glut of other all-new #1 issues?

There are instances where I do understand a character or concept starting over, if the concept or the character are brand-new. Ghost Rider with Danny Ketch was clearly a different concept than the Johnny Blaze series, and I will never get Marvel's fascination with Johnny that they always keep going back to when Danny was the popular character people flocked to. When DC restarted The Flash in 1986, it was a totally different Flash and a totally different direction. I'm fine with that. In retrospect, I'm surprised the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern wasn't a new #1, though sales we so good he didn't need it. The "new concept" thing doesn't always apply as an excuse for a new #1, either: X-Factor is claiming to be going "all new and all different" (again) for All-New X-Factor, but X-Factor has always been a comic book that would reinvent itself. As it stands, though, let's see if this series, written by the very talented Peter David, hits #25. I'm betting not. I almost think sticking with the old numbering and a new direction might have been better, especially considering the loyal X-Factor readership. (Tangent: Does "this will not last two years" keep readers from picking up a comic book to begin with? I'm assuming yes. And also, yes, I am aware that at least three of the 1989 launches listed at the top of this article were themselves relaunches, but they were also many years after some very short runs, What If? excluded. Sensational She-Hulk was, for example, also a very different comic book than the first Savage She-Hulk series.)

On the flip side, aside from Thor turning itself into Journey Into Mystery, which was the original title anyway and it retained core concepts like Loki or Sif, I've never quite understood the point of "taking over issue numbering," especially when there's no real connection to the original book. Did Incredible Hercules really need to take over from Incredible Hulk? No. That was silly. Black Panther: The Man Without Fear? The same thing. Why would there be a Black Panther #512 when there isn't a preceding 511 issues? That's dumb. The Captain America And... team-up book taking over from the previous Cap volume was sort of okay; the only problem was that it often shipped the same week as its parent title, meaning readers might pick only one, and they'd always go right to the one that "mattered."

I think after the failure of the Sif-led Journey Into Mystery or the inexplicable non-#1 of Red She-Hulk, Marvel is probably done with the "taking over the numbering" concept, which is probably a good thing in the long run, even though I did like that it did give us some big numbers on comic books. It makes me a little sad that Journey Into Mystery could get to #655 and then end with so little fanfare, but that's Marvel in the 21st century for you. Were it my choice, I would have probably tried turning JiM into a secondary Thor book, heck, even maybe putting the official movie adaptation in there... either way, it's a great title for a comic book. Oh well.

Either way, I'm probably entering babble territory so I should probably stop. I am curious what others think, so if you can politely respond, I'd love to hear what you think of all of these launches and relaunches. Does #1 matter? What would you like to see in the future? Will the numbering ever "turn back?"

The only thing I know for sure -- and this is a story for another blog post -- is I hope we get Amazing Spider-Man #701 in 2014, and I'm pretty sure we won't. Oh, and for all that is holy... enough with this #700.1, Villain's Month, #18.INH BS, especially when it's not consistent. How can Fantastic Four have #4 and #4.AU, yet Avengers Assemble gets AU issues and no regular issues? Or how do we get Peter Parker: Spider-Man #156.1 when there was no #156 to begin with (the last issue was effectively #155)? It's confusing, and dumb. Stop it, and just go back to going in a proper sequence.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

R.I.P. Nick Cardy

Just last night, I was posting on a Facebook thread about good Comic-Con experiences of times past, and it had me reflecting on the artist Ernie Chan, who I commissioned a sketch from in 2011 and sadly died the next year.

Today comes news that legendary artist Nick Cardy has passed away. Cardy had done some fantastic interiors as well, but for me, looking at DC Comics in the 70's, if a DC book had an amazing cover it was often either the work of Cardy or Neal Adams.

I admit I wasn't originally that familiar with his work, until one year I happened to be on an airport shuttle from SDCC right next to Mr. Cardy himself. I immediately looked up his work, and of course since then, magazines like Back Issue have made sure I know all about him. He was gracious, kind, and very talented.

He may not have had the notoriety of a Jack Kirby or a Gil Kane in the ultimate scheme of things, but Google his work sometime and you'll see he was a titan himself. He will be missed.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Trade Paperback Numbering

I have a rant in me about comic book numbering that will come up very soon, but another thing I'd like to pick at is numbering on trade paperback spines.

Now more than ever, fans refer to trades to stay caught up with their favorite series. Paperback collections of The Walking Dead do HUGE numbers, meaning that comics written by Robert Kirkman 10 years ago STILL bring in money.

But you'll notice something with the Walking Dead trades, or series like Sandman that have stayed evergreen in collection form: They're sequentially numbered. 1 is before 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.. It is possible to "collect them all."

I don't think there is any rhyme or reason to Marvel's TPB program, although maybe it has changed since Marvel Now! happened. Even a comic like Ultimate Spider-Man that was collected in some sort of order went off the rails after the first or second relaunch. Even the Marvel Masterworks hardcovers -- even worse than their often-changing jacket art -- the "retro" volume numbers on the side might mean Fantastic Four is Vol. 1, Spider-Man Vol. 2, and FF doesn't come around again until 8. That's kind of confusing!

I do think it's cool that Marvel is finally releasing some lesser-known runs, but again, wouldn't it fit better as part of a sequential series? What if you could get all of Avengers Vol. 1 in, say, 43 volumes of ten issues? (I say "43" because Annuals have to fit in there too).

Volume 110. Really?!?!
Because the book trade is so lucrative, too, what if they did come out on a regular schedule, as well, almost like a monthly periodical? Again, they're evergreen until they go out of print, though if they do go out of print, that could create more collectability much like back issues used to.

I just find it sad if someone asks "where do I get started on X-Men," I'd have no idea where to tell them to go. If it was all in some order... maybe I could.

It does look like DC is appropriately numbering their New 52 trades, so good on them for that, though the hardcover vs. softcover thing seems a little inconsistent.

Still, I think it's great that a new reader can know EXACTLY where to go with The Walking Dead. I just wish I could tell them where to start with other favorites.

Too Many Avengers. (Or X-Men, or Justice Leagues)

One thing that has certainly changed about comics since I began collecting, and not for the better, is the notion that there are so many titles for the same franchises, with no explicit rhyme or reason to them.

Yes, I acknowledge that my first superhero comic, West Coast Avengers #37, was one of those spin-off titles, but it also had a very specific and different purpose and locale. It also had a very consistent character line-up through most of its run.

Now, though, we get a dozen different Avengers titles, and the same for the X-Men, and half the time they all seem to come out the same week, at $3.99 a pop. Marvel might think that milking these cash cows keeps them with a huge profit margin, but ultimately, they're hurting themselves. Did no one learn from the glut of Punisher and Ghost Rider comics of the early 90's?

For one thing, shipping multiple titles of the same family in the same week is, in my opinion, just dumb. When I began collecting, that didn't happen. Web of Spider-Man shipped a different week from Amazing, which was a different week from the McFarlane book, which came out a different week from Spectacular. Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, Wolverine and X-Factor all seemed to come out on different weeks, too, though I may be remembering that incorrectly. In recent years since some artists couldn't meet deadlines, there were times when we got two issues of Captain America or Amazing Spider-Man ON THE SAME DAY! Avengers fan when it literally costs $30 to keep up every month?
At one time, the Punisher had three ongoing titles.
2-3 years later, he had zero.
That's eight bucks right there. Joe Comics Buyer might think "eh, I might as well just stop buying these titles; it's too much to keep up with." But even if it's not the same title - how can someone be a true-blue

The other unfortunate side effect: If the readers are only buying Avengers, that means they're missing something else that might be new. It's a wonder titles like Daredevil even do business now, but that kind of was helped by word of mouth. It's not just Marvel, either: Why check out The Green Team or even a title that's been around a while like Stormwatch when you've got three or four different comics called Justice League to follow? (Never mind that Green Team and Stormwatch are kind of crap, I'm just trying to make a point)

People talk about how great Chris Claremont's long run on X-Men was... at a time, you'll note, when it was the only X-Men title. Once a month, although heck, if there's just one ongoing book I'd be fine with biweekly or only weekly. You know what's going on, which characters come and go, etc. Was there really a reason Astonishing X-Men existed after Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis left? Surely characters like Northstar could have just as easily been served in the core X-book, right? But back to what I was saying: ONE X-Men book, you could keep track of your favorite characters, even if it means it's a year and a half between Dazzler appearances. It's a coherent book, great for new readers. Whatever. Ancillary titles can and should exist, within reason. For example, I totally understand why All-New X-Men is its own thing, but why did we really need a new Uncanny? But at the very least, if they're doing that, don't have them all ship on the same day, please.

Either way, these multiple books will ultimately cannibalize themselves and then what will we be left with? It's just a shame... if I had the power to change comics, cutting down on the number of titles would be first on my agenda. A consistent schedule would be step two. Thoughts about my blathering? Leave comments below. And soon, another comics rant, unless I scared everyone away this first time.

Origin Story

A lot of the time, people know me from my posts on my various websites - KryptonSite, GreenArrowTV, KSiteTV, etc. etc. In addition to writing about comic book related TV projects online, though, I've been a comic book collector since the late 1980's.

A G.I. Joe cover with Cobra Commander, Snake-Eyes, and Destro removing their masks lured me toward comics, and I bought the G.I. Joe Order of Battle #2 that month. G.I. Joe comics were all I collected for a time - including the main title, Special Missions, Tales of G.I. Joe, and even a digest-sized series that was pretty awesome.

West Coast Avengers was my first foray into a superhero world. It was issue #37, full of notes for back issues that set up the current stories. Those footnotes - saying to read, say, issue #229 of Avengers or WCA #23, helped inform my early back issue buying. Those back issues were usually found at a store I discovered in Annapolis called "The Twilite Zone." I remember seeing G.I. Joe issues in the issue #40 range as "not affordable" because they were over $2! If only comics that good still went for that price.

The most magic thing about the Twilite Zone -- which still operates in a Glen Burnie, MD location -- is the way it smelled. Walking upstairs at 8 Fleet Street, it smelled like musty old comic book paper. It was pretty amazing.

Anyway, that's my "origin story," and if anyone happens to read this, they'll probably read more about what informed those early comic book collecting experiences. The other question I should answer before we start, though, is "why am I doing this?"

Really, this blog is just set up for me to yammer on about comics. So often now, you post in a thread at Bleeding Cool or CBR and the immediate reaction is "Who cares?" People are rude. Maybe they'll be rude in the comments here, but this is my "house" and I don't have to tolerate it. I have thoughts about what I like from comics, and what I want from comics in the future. What I want probably doesn't line up with everyone else, but that's part of the fun, right? Sure, I could probably blog for a comic book site, but maybe it is true that "no one cares" -- except me. That's why I'm here.

I'll get started with my first real post this weekend.