Great Moments In Comic Book History #27: The Skrulls Are Here


Just a few months after introducing themselves to the world, the Fantastic Four appear to be on a crime rampage!  The Thing swims out to an oil rig and knocks it over with one punch.  The Human Torch melts a memorial.  The Invisible Girl steals jewelry.  And when New York suffers a huge blackout, witnesses report seeing an arm stretching it’s way into a powerplant and flipping the off switch!

The Fantastic Four claim that they’re innocent and it turns out that they are.  Four shape-shifting aliens, known as the Skrulls, have traveled to Earth and are pretending to be the Fantastic Four so that the government will turn on them and it will be easier for the Skrulls to take over the planet.  Fortunately, Mr. Fantastic figures out what’s going on.  Not only does he fool the Skrull commanders by showing them back issues of Journey Into Mystery and Strange Tales and saying that they’re actual newspapers about the monsters that exist on earth but he also hypnotizes three of the Skrulls on Earth and convinces them that they are cows.

I’ve always liked the Skrulls and it’s always bothered me that they seemed to lose almost every war that they got involved in.  How could the Kree defeat the Skrulls?  And was it necessary to add insult to injury by having Galactus eat their homeworld?  The Skrulls just could not catch a break and I think that’s one reason why they’ve always been popular.  With their ability to change their shape and adopt the powers of the heroes that they’re imitating, the Skrulls should have been unstoppable.  They should have conquered this planet a long time ago.  But the Skrulls, for all of their powers, could just never seem to get it together.  To paraphrase Uncle Ben, with great power comes truly rotten luck.

Fantastic Four #2 was not only the first appearance of the Skrulls but it was also the first instance of a Marvel super hero team thwarting an invasion of Earth.  (Eventually, Earth being invaded would become a monthly occurrence in the Marvel Universe.)  The issue also introduced a major Marvel theme.  The Fantastic Four may have saved the world from Mole Man just a few weeks before the Skrulls arrived but it didn’t take long for the general public to turn on them.  It was a lesson that would later also be learned by Spider-Man and the X-Men.  The general public is extremely fickle when it comes to its super heroes.

And it all started with four shape-shifters coming to Earth.  The Skrulls may never win but Marvel still owes much to them.

Fantastic Four Vol. 1 No. 2

(September, 1962)

“The Fantastic Four Meets The Skrulls From Outer Space”

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Klein
Letters: John Duffy

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid
  10. To All A Good Night
  11. Zombie!
  12. The First Appearance of Ghost Rider
  13. The First Appearance of Werewolf By Night
  14. Captain America Punches Hitler
  15. Spider-Man No More!
  16. Alex Ross Captures Galactus
  17. Spider-Man And The Dallas Cowboys Battle The Circus of Crime
  18. Goliath Towers Over New York
  19. NFL SuperPro is Here!
  20. Kickers Inc. Comes To The World Outside Your Window
  21. Captain America For President
  22. Alex Ross Captures Spider-Man
  23. J. Jonah Jameson Is Elected Mayor of New York City
  24. Captain America Quits
  25. Spider-Man Meets The Fantastic Four
  26. Spider-Man Teams Up With Batman For The Last Time

Great Moments In Comic Book History #26: Spider-Man Teams Up With Batman For The Last Time


It’s easy to forget now but there was once a time when Marvel and DC would set aside their differences and their heroes (and sometimes, their villains) would team up.  Spider-Man met Superman.  The X-Men met the New Teen Titans.  Darkseid met Galactus.  Green Lantern met the Silver Surfer.  Silver Surfer met Batman.  Actually, a lot of Marvel heroes met Batman, everyone from the Hulk to Punisher to Daredevil to, again, Spider-Man.  It makes sense.  Batman, with his antisocial tendencies and his tragic backstory, had more in common with the typical Marvel hero than with Superman.

These events were never an official part of the Marvel or DC universe.  Both companies eventually developed their own version of the multiverse and it was accepted that the Marvel/DC crossovers all took place in an alternate universe where Gotham City and Metropolis existed alongside Marvel’s version of New York City.  Though these crossovers were not canonical, they always felt like a big deal.  They were a chance to answer the age-old question of who would win in a fight, Batman or Spider-Man.  It didn’t matter that the crossovers usually copped out on giving a definitive answer.  Usually, the heroes would fight to a draw and then team up to battle the real enemy.  That way both fandoms could be happy and there was still a reason to buy the next crossover.

The crossovers are something that will probably never happen again, not with the rivalry between the MCU and DCEU.  It’s too bad because the crossovers were always enjoyable.  The final Batman/Spider-Man crossover was called New Age Dawning and it was published twenty-five years ago, this month.  Batman’s villain, Ra’s al Ghul, poisoned the wife of Spider-Man’s villain, Kingpin.  Ra’s al Ghul thought he could blackmail the Kingpin into helping him sink the island of Manhattan.  Instead, the Kingpin teams up with Spider-Man and Batman to defeat Ra’s plan.  It’s a simple story but it ends on a note of grace, with Batman giving Spider-Man the cure for the poison and then Spider-Man taking it to the Kingpin.  If the Batman/Spider-Man crossovers had to end, that was the way to end them, with two heroes coming together to do the right thing.

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid
  10. To All A Good Night
  11. Zombie!
  12. The First Appearance of Ghost Rider
  13. The First Appearance of Werewolf By Night
  14. Captain America Punches Hitler
  15. Spider-Man No More!
  16. Alex Ross Captures Galactus
  17. Spider-Man And The Dallas Cowboys Battle The Circus of Crime
  18. Goliath Towers Over New York
  19. NFL SuperPro is Here!
  20. Kickers Inc. Comes To The World Outside Your Window
  21. Captain America For President
  22. Alex Ross Captures Spider-Man
  23. J. Jonah Jameson Is Elected Mayor of New York City
  24. Captain America Quits
  25. Spider-Man Meets The Fantastic Four

Great Moments In Comic Book History #25: Spider-Man Meets The Fantastic Four


August 1st is celebrated as Spider-Man Day because Spider-Man made his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was given an August, 1962 cover date despite hitting newstands in June.  Though Amazing Fantasy ceased publication after the 15th issue, Spider-Man was a hit as a character and was on his way to becoming one of the iconic figures of the Marvel universe.

Spider-Man himself would not get his comic book until March, 1963 with the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.  The majority of that issue featured Marvel’s newest hero battling the Chameleon, a Russian criminal who was committing crimes while disguised as Spider-Man!  Of course, Spider-Man’s bad reputation didn’t start with the Chameleon.  Especially in the early days of his career, people often assumed that Spider-Man was up to no good.  (Having J. Jonah Jameson as an enemy didn’t help.)  While all the other heroes were celebrated by the public, Spider-Man was always misunderstood.  That’s one reason why readers identified with him.

Before battling the Chameleon, the continually cash-strapped Spider-Man tried to improve his situation by getting a job with the Fantastic Four.

It didn’t go well.  Spider-Man’s idea of a job interview was breaking into the Baxter Building and proving that he could hold his own in battle with each member of the group.  Spider-Man proved that he could fight but Mr. Fantastic was not impressed, telling Spider-Man that the Fantastic Four were a non-profit organization and that picking a fight was not the way to get a job.  Offended, Spider-Man announced that he didn’t need the Fantastic Four and left.  Because Mr. Fantastic and the rest of the Fantastic Four always came across as being full of themselves, I am sure many readers agreed with Spider-Man.  By swinging out of there, Spider-Man let his readers know that he didn’t need anyone’s approval.

Not only did this moment establish who Spider-Man was as a character but it also started a long Marvel cross-over tradition.  Heroes would frequently meet each other, crossing over from book to book.  They would often team up but, before they could do that, they always had to fight over a misunderstanding and trade insults.  The moment that Spider-Man told off Mr. Fantastic was also the moment that the Marvel Universe first truly came to life.

Later, of course, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four made up.  Spider-Man and the Human Torch co-starred in several issues of Marvel Team-Up.  But most readers will always prefer to remember Spider-Man telling Mr. Fantastic to get bent.

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid
  10. To All A Good Night
  11. Zombie!
  12. The First Appearance of Ghost Rider
  13. The First Appearance of Werewolf By Night
  14. Captain America Punches Hitler
  15. Spider-Man No More!
  16. Alex Ross Captures Galactus
  17. Spider-Man And The Dallas Cowboys Battle The Circus of Crime
  18. Goliath Towers Over New York
  19. NFL SuperPro is Here!
  20. Kickers Inc. Comes To The World Outside Your Window
  21. Captain America For President
  22. Alex Ross Captures Spider-Man
  23. J. Jonah Jameson Is Elected Mayor of New York City
  24. Captain America Quits

Every Generation Gets The Spider-Man It Deserves


August 1st is Spider-Man Day.  Despite this being the day that observes Spider-Man’s first appearance in the 15th issue of Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy, the trash is still being collected and the mail is still being delivered.  Spider-Man Day is a holiday when no one gets any time off.  I’m sure that the web slinger himself would appreciate the irony.

The appeal of Spider-Man has always been that he’s the hero who never feels that he’s done enough.  He’s also the hero who is almost always unappreciated by the rest of the world.  He’s the hero who often resents having to do his job but who still feels a responsibility to try to make the world a better place.  Spider-Man is the superhero that almost everyone can relate to.

As far as television and movies go, every generation has gotten the Spider-Man that they deserved.

The boomers got Nicholas Hammond’s Spider-Man.  Hammond played Spider-Man for two seasons in the 70s.  He was a little boring but, from what I’ve seen, his show has a reputation for being worse than it was.  Like the best of the boomers, Hammond’s Spider-Man could be stuffy but he got the job done.

Generation X got Tobey Maguire, who played Spider-Man in three films that Sam Raimi directed in the aughts.  Like Generation X, Maguire’s Spider-Man was quiet but clever.  Despite his quick wit, he was frequently neurotic and more than a little introverted but he always came through in the end.

Then, Andrew Garfield played the millennial version of Spider-Man.  Angsty and awkward, Garfield’s Spider-Man was aware that society would never fully accept him, both as Peter and as Spider-Man.  At times, it seemed like his every attempt at making things better somehow only made them worse.

And finally, the Zoomers have got Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, an earnest idealist who struggles with the fact that the world is more complicated than it seems.  You can criticize him for being naïve but never doubt the sincerity of his beliefs.

All of the actors who played Spider-Man have done a good job and they all deserve praise.  My favorite is Tobey Maguire but that’s largely because, having been born in ’82, I’m on the dividing line between Generation X and Millennial and I’ve always leaned more towards the Generation X side of things.  Plus, I can relate to this:

Maguire, Garfield, and Holland all came together to appear in the previous Spider-Man film, which I thought was a nice touch.  I just wish Nicholas Hammond had been invited to join them.

Nicholas Hammond, as Peter Parker

Nicholas Hammond, Today

Having an older, perhaps retired Spider-Man joining forces with the Maguire, Garfield, and Holland versions of the character would have provided an extra-dimension to the movie, much as used to happen on Doctor Who whenever any of the previous incarnations of the Time Lord would meet the newest version.

Regardless of who plays him or whether he’s Peter Parker or Miles Morales, Spider-Man remains the hero to whom we can all relate.  Spider-Man is all of us.

Happy Spider-Man Day to all!

Great Moments In Comic Book History #24: Captain America Quits


Captain America #332 (August, 1987) opens with Captain America, the living symbol of the USA, being summoned to the Pentagon.  A group of faceless bureaucrats known as The Commission tell Captain America that it is time for him to become an official agent of the U.S. Government.  They argue that Steve Rogers would not even be Captain America if he hadn’t enlisted in the armed forces and been injected with the super soldier formula.  It’s time for Steve Rogers to stop acting as a free agent and serve his government.  And, if Steve can’t do that, the Commission can find someone to take his place, someone who understands the importance of following orders.  Maybe even someone like the Super-Patriot, who is busy fighting a group of terrorists while Steve is at the meeting.

Steve thinks it over and then does the only thing that his conscience will allow.

He quits.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that Steve Rogers quit being Captain America.  In the 1970s, he was so disillusioned to discover that the President was a part of a secret conspiracy that he resigned his commission and briefly called himself The Captain.  Eventually, he returned to being Captain America, just as he would do the second time that he quit.  After The Commission named recruited Super Patriot to carry the shield, Steve didn’t have much choice but to take it back.

Still, this moment defined what Steve Rogers was all about.  He wasn’t about serving the government or enforcing anyone’s particular policy.  He was about America and the ideals that he felt it should stand for.  And if that meant defying his government, that’s what he would do.

It was a great moment.

Captain America Vol. 1#332 (August, 1987)

“The Choice”

  • Writer — Mark Gruenwald
    Penciler — Tom Morgan
    Inker — Bob McLeod
    Colorist — Ken Feduniewicz
    Letterer — Diana Albers
    Editor — Don Daley

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man
  6. Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker
  7. Conan The Barbarian Visits Times Square
  8. Dracula Joins The Marvel Universe
  9. The Death of Dr. Druid
  10. To All A Good Night
  11. Zombie!
  12. The First Appearance of Ghost Rider
  13. The First Appearance of Werewolf By Night
  14. Captain America Punches Hitler
  15. Spider-Man No More!
  16. Alex Ross Captures Galactus
  17. Spider-Man And The Dallas Cowboys Battle The Circus of Crime
  18. Goliath Towers Over New York
  19. NFL SuperPro is Here!
  20. Kickers Inc. Comes To The World Outside Your Window
  21. Captain America For President
  22. Alex Ross Captures Spider-Man
  23. J. Jonah Jameson Is Elected Mayor of New York City

Defending America With Miss Victory!


In the world of the comics, there were many costumed heroes during World War II.  Everyone from Superman to Captain America to Captain Marvel did their part for the war effort, battling Nazis abroad and traitors at home.  However, one of the first costumed heroes was unique because, in an age dominated by super-powered men, she was a woman who simply decided that she could better aid her country by wearing a costume and fighting its enemies.  By day, she was Joan Wayne, a stenographer.  But, when America’s enemies needed a good beat down, she became Miss Victory!

With this being Independence Day weekend, it seems appropriate to take a moment and pay our respects to one of the first female super heroes of World War II, Miss Victory!

The Devil Is In The Details — But God Might Be, Too : David Tea’s “Five Perennial Virtues” #12 : “Pearl”


Something tells me that if the late, great Steve Ditko didn’t harbor a sense of utter disdain for mysticism (I know, I know, weird considering he created the character of Dr. Strange) that he’d like David Tea’s comics : intricate bordering on the obsessive, singular in their approach, making little to no allowances for popular taste, and more than a trifle inflicted with/influenced by (depending upon one’s point of view) a kind of esoterically-flavored cultural and even political conservatism that probably doesn’t have much of a place in the MAGA clown car even though it shares at least a few of its goals, Tea strikes me as Ditko’s heir apparent and antithesis in almost equal measure, a “fellow traveler” who set out on a separate path. One that, crucially, doesn’t preclude the direct involvement of the supernatural in everyday life.

And, really, everyday life has always been — and remains — Tea’s focus, but he has a way of making even its most mundane minutiae seem interesting, alien, and altogether new. In the same way that a cat can be utterly enthralled with going after the same piece of string for the 10,000th time (and Tea has actually made a comic about that very subject), the unfolding episodic narrative that is Five Perennial Virtues can follow the same basic formula with entirely different results each issue.

Although, in absolute fairness, “results” may not be what this comic is even after — as cliched as it is to say something is “all about the journey,” in this case it’s nevertheless absolutely true. Issue number twelve of Tea’s irregularly self-published series, subtitled “Pearl,” has just been released and is laden with explication, extrapolation, and explanation — some pages are quite literally a “wall of text” — and yet, as is the case with life itself, we’re no “further along” in many key respects at the end than we were at the start. Hell, it remains an open question how much of this narrative is “real” and how much is a “dream,” but the damned thing is : at some point you stop caring about such trivialities and just accept what’s unfolding on the page for what it is — whatever that may be.

For my own part, I’ve long since stopped trying to define what I term, in wholly unoriginal fashion, the “David Tea comics experience,” and just kind of surrendered to it. This isn’t work that takes a page from any particular playbook or stylistic tradition, but likewise it’s too well-versed in the tropes and trappings of sequential storytelling for me to feel comfortable labeling it as “outsider art.” Tea is clearly schooled in how comics have been made — in how, the narrow-minded would argue, they “should” be made — but either through conscious disregard of said strictures or distinct lack of interest in maintaining/perpetuating them, his work has achieved, and continues to build upon, a loose visual and narrative language entirely its own.

There is no mistaking a comic by this dude for a comic by anyone else.

It is, therefore, wholly accurate to say that the nuts and bolts of what’s happening in Five Perennial Virtues #12 can be summed up as : “disheveled (possibly homeless?) Dave meets an attractive and interesting young lady, behaves oddly, and weird things happen — plus fourth-wall-busting philosophical asides,” but the thing about truth and accuracy that makes it such a pain in the ass is that it’s far too confining to apply to art. And so, as with the set-up of one of Tea’s plots, I look at the entirety of these comics as a springboard to something else, some other way of observing life on the one hand but also experiencing it on the other. I don’t know if that’s the intention, but then I don’t know that Tea can be accused of even having something as pedestrian as an “intention” in the first place. I recall, for instance, asking him a few years back when I interviewed him what his titular five perennial virtues were, and he told me that he was still figuring that out — but that he was pretty sure that, yes, there were five of them.

Take a moment and let that sink in : with nearly two decades of cartooning under his belt — a point at which most of his “peers” think they’ve got more or less everything figured out — David Tea is still feeling his way forward, learning on the job, deciding both what the hell he wants to do with his art and how he wants to do it. And that, right there, is what makes his comics not only interesting, but vital. Time will tell if the repeating symbolism and Biblical asides of “Pearl” are things he returns to or discards in future issues — if this is a taste of things to come or a one-off aside — but we needn’t worry either way : Tea will do what feels right on the page at the time, just as he’s done here.

Just as he always has. After all, I don’t think it’s ever been about creating the so-called “perfect” comic with this guy : it’s about creating a comic that is perfectly itself. His always are.

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Five Perennial Virtues #12 : “Pearl” is available for $7.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/fiveperennial12.html

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Do Comics Publishers Need Readers Anymore? Part Two


If you look at the copyright indicia notices typically printed on the inside front covers of most nominally “independent” comics, you’ll find that the trademarks for the book in question — as well those for all its characters, their distinct likenesses, and what have you — are jointly held by the principal members of that comic’s so-called “creative team.” Generally that means the writer and the artist, unless the comic was made by a real CARTOONIST who does everything themselves, but I’ve seen select instances where the colorist and even the letterer are in on a piece of the action, as well. This is the good side of creator ownership, with everything working as it should. But there is, increasingly, a darker side that is seeing a lot of people getting screwed out of their fair share —

For instance, when you look at the copyright indicia in most comics published by Aftershock, Avatar, and Boom! Studios, what you’ll see about eight times out of ten is that the trademarks to the characters and concepts are jointly held by the WRITER and the PUBLISHER, with the artist left out in the cold despite spending more time working on the book than anybody else. That’s because Aftershock, Avatar, and Boom! — and even, increasingly, Dark Horse — take their so-called “pitches” directly from writers, and then hire out a jobbing penciller, inker, or penciller/inker to draw the series that they “green light” on a work-made-for-hire basis. In other words, these poor schmucks are getting the same raw deal they would be getting at Marvel or DC — only probably even worse, because the page rates at these second-and third-tier publishing houses are for shit.

Of course, economically speaking, these publishers have a built-in excuse as to why they don’t pay their talent a decent wage : none of their comics sell.  Curiously, though, that doesn’t seem to stop them from making more of them. Consider : Aftershock can’t be said to have published a legitimate “hit” series at any point in its near-ten-year history, and a quick glance at the monthly sales figures shows most of their product charting in the 5,000-6,000 copies sold range — if it even charts in the first place. Many of their titles don’t make the minimum threshold to be ranked at all. Ditto for Avatar, which hasn’t had a real hit outside Crossed and its Alan Moore-scripted series like Neonomicon and Providence. Or how about Boom!, which has somehow survived for well over a decade despite NEVER having a real sales success (not endorsed by Keanu Reeves, that is) until Something Is Killing The Children and its spin-off series, House Of Slaughter, turned up in the last year or two?

Speaking of, the copyrights on those two books are even MORE confusing : writer James Tynion IV and artist Werther Dell’Edera are BOTH credited as the series’ CREATORS, but the books are OWNED by Tynion and Boom!, with Dell’Edera stuck on the outside looking in of his own co-creation. Over at Aftershock, though, things are getting even more ridiculous : their recent series Nuclear Family, written by Stephanie Phillips and drawn by Tony Shasteen, isn’t the property of EITHER creator — it’s the property of the publisher and a Hollywood guy named Eric Bromberg, who “pitched” the project to Aftershock but apparently didn’t feel like actually WORKING on it himself. I was able to confirm that “business model” also applies to Aftershock comics Pestilence and Red Atlantis, and if I had a couple more hours to devote to legwork on this column, I’m sure that I could find more.

But we’re not finished with the absurdity yet, friends. Newer publishers TKO Studios and AWA/Upshot both showed up talking a big game about how “creator-friendly” they were, but ALL of their books are corporate-owned, and the two guys running the show at AWA, Bill Jemas and Axel Alonso. are former Marvel suits. If they wanted to keep sticking it to the talent like this, you have to wonder why they didn’t just stay at their old gigs — oh, that’s right, they were fired.

Both TKO and AWA are still patiently waiting for their fist popular series to come along, as well, but their overall publishing outputs are remaining fairly consistent — hell, AWA seems to be cranking out more and more titles every month. Yet NONE of them sell. How is it, then, that supposedly “indie” publishers find themselves getting more and more stingy in terms of offering REAL creator ownership, even as their books gather dust on the shelves?  I mean, why would a publisher even CARE about screwing over one or more of the creators of a series almost no one reads? Why would they accept proposals from Hollywood screenwriters for projects those guys don’t want to put any effort into themselves and that are more or less guaranteed to find their way into dollar bins within a few months?

The answer, of course, is pretty simple : these publishers aren’t looking to have a wide range of successful titles, they’re looking to stumble into a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket. If just ONE of their comics gets optioned for development by a TV or movie studio, they figure that will make up for all the losses on all this other crap. And if one of those options makes it out of development hell and onto the big or small screen? They’re REALLY swimming in gravy then. These companies aren’t even “comic book publishers” per se — they’re in the business of publishing movie and TV treatments that have the added “plus” of being storyboarded entirely in advance.  I assure you I’m not at all exaggerating when I say that sooner rather than later at least one of these mid-level “independents” is going to drop all the pretense, forego distributing their product to comic shops, and just ship it to studio execs and producers off a mailing list.

To return to our original question, then, these comics publishers absolutely DON’T need readers — note the plural. What they need is just ONE random reader, with deep pockets and Tinseltown connections, to look at one of their comics and figure it has the makings of a hit in other media. That’s enough to keep the lights on in the short term. Ultimately, though, what they would REALLY like is the kind of deal Boom! recently got where 20th Century Fox bought a sizable stake in the company and moved their offices right onto the studio lot. Or the deal Dark Horse got, where they sold the company lock, stock, and barrel to a multinational video game giant.  The AWAs, Aftershocks, TKOs, and even the Avatars of the world keep plugging away, losses be damned, in hopes of that one MONSTER payday down the line.

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Like everything else I’m running this week, this essay originally appeared on my Patreon site, where you get three similar helpings to thoughts straight from yours truly’s id every week. You can subscribe for as little as a dollar a month, and while I’m admittedly biased, I daresay that’s one of the better values going in the entire Patreon racket these days. So come on over, we’re friendly, I promise.

Oh, and I suppose a link would help. Here you go : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

A Very Personal Masterpiece : Julie Doucet’s “Time Zone J”


As art, as narrative, as formalist exercise, and as graphic literature, there’s no way to describe Julie Doucet’s long-awaited return to the medium she helped revolutionize, the recently-published Time Zone J, as anything other than a triumph. And quite likely a staggering one at that. But that doesn’t mean that getting through it isn’t a fair amount of work.

As with all labors, though, what matters here is how ENJOYABLE the expenditure of energy (in this case MENTAL energy) involved is, and how much VALUE one derives from it.  On that score, we as readers needn’t fear, as we’re in the best possible hands, but as a CRITIC, this is a book that puts me in a bit of a tricky wicket because I feel the need to write a “how-to” guide every bit as much as a review. Perhaps I just need to learn to compromise and write something that’s a bit of both?

To begin with, then, Doucet drew — and politely admonishes us to read — each of these pages in “reverse,” bottom-top-top order, but that’s often FAR easier said than done. Drawing on her experience with collage, what Doucet has created here is the nearest thing to its comics equivalent : a miasmic, oftentimes dizzying array of tightly-placed images (usually faces, sometimes animals and objects and buildings, more rarely full-figure drawings) with no artificially-constructed “borders” between them. In purely practical terms, this means that not only are there no “panels” per se, but that each image flows and/or butts up against the next, and that each “side” of each folded page continues onto and into the one next to it. Yes, it’s confusing, but so is life, and you DO get used to it — again, like life. But there ARE numerous occasions where word balloons and the like have to be sort of intuitively organized because there’s no clear visual “running order” provided. 

Strangely, though, this doesn’t feel like just haphazard methodology on Doucet’s part : again, I invoke the term “intuited” because it absolutely applies. And it applies to the STORY “structure,” as well, bobbing and weaving as it does between past and present, between Doucet as she is and as she was, and of course part of the fun here is teasing out both the differences and similarities (not only in terms of physical characteristics, but also in terms of outlook, mindset, and personality) between both “versions” of our author/protagonist. There IS a focal point to the narrative — that being the recounting of a painful, abusive, and ultimately doomed relationship between Doucet and a late-1980s/early-1990s paramour she refers to as “The Hussar” — but the circuitous route she travels getting to this series of  recollections, as well as the various tributaries that emerge from them, are truthfully every bit as fascinating and involving as is the “meat” of the “plot” itself. Again, the obliteration of any and all demarcation between events and chronologies and their physical representations is absolutely crucial here : this isn’t about how things “begin” or “end,” it’s about showing AND telling that they all blend together, even (perhaps especially?) when said blending is far from seamless.

Viewed from that perspective, it’s no exaggeration to say that Time Zone J is one of the most conceptually and aesthetically HONEST comics you’re ever likely to read, even if the mileage individual readers get from it is BOUND to vary due to its absolutely unique construction.  We’re all familiar with the idea that certain works are, as the cliche goes, “easier to respect than they are to like,” but Doucet ups the ante on that considerably here, crafting something that is downright IMPOSSIBLE not to respect REGARDLESS of how much one likes it.

Which sounds, I suppose, as though I might be damning Time Zone J with faint praise, but I assure you nothing could be further from the truth : I LOVED this book and consider it to be the crown jewel in Doucet’s stellar career — yes, I think I like it even more than Dirty Plotte. But it did have to grow on me as I went along — or, perhaps more accurately, I had to grow into it, as it’s something that offers no option apart from meeting it ENTIRELY on its own terms. To my mind, though, that is PRECISELY what an “auteur” work is, and if ever there was a book that lived and breathed an artistic philosophy of uncompromising singularity, it’s this one. Time will tell if it proves to be the year’s BEST comic, of course, but I’d be absolutely flabbergasted if, by calendar’s turn, it stands as anything less than the most IMPORTANT and GROUNDBREKING one.

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By way of full disclosure, this review originally ran on my Patreon site and is presented here as part of a devious week-long scheme to entice more people to subscribe to said site.

And, really, if you like my stuff, there’s no reason not to. You get three new reviews/rants/ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. So do yourself — and, who are we kidding, me — a favor and check it out by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Do Comics Publishers Need Readers Anymore? Part One


It’s easy to forget now, but when Marvel Studios launched in 2008, the move was met with a fair amount of then-understandable skepticism — after all, not only had the publisher sold away the film and TV rights to most of its “A-list” characters in a series of bad deals largely brokered by Smilin’ Stan Lee himself, they’d also sold off a fair number of “B-listers” as well : Spider-Man was unavailable for them to use, as were the X-Men, but so were also-rans such as Daredevil and The Punisher. The cupboard wasn’t bare, by any means, but properties such as Iron Man and Captain America — while they certainly had their fans — were nothing the major studio players were all that interested in. It’s fair to say, in fact, that at the time of the MCU’s genesis, the most bankable character under the company’s control was The Hulk, the rights to whom had reverted back to Marvel after Universal declined to produce a follow-up to Ang Lee’s 2003 box office disaster featuring the big green guy.

My, how times change. Nearly 15 years on, not only are Iron Man, Captain America, Daredevil, and The Punisher more popular with movie-going audiences than Batman and Superman, people are forking over hefty monthly subscription fees to Disney Plus to watch shows featuring such formerly-bottom-tier characters as Moon Knight, The Vision, Winter Soldier, and Loki.  Hell, even joke properties like Ant-Man have become box office gold. Odds are pretty good that, at this point, Marvel would even turn a hefty profit off the likes of Alpha Flight or Damage Control, so insatiable is the public’s appetite for their product.

All of which, believe it or not, is my long-winded way of getting back to the title of this short series and assuring you, dear reader, that the question I’m asking is NOT a rhetorical one — at least not in all cases. Admittedly, there are comics publishers that clearly and obviously DO need readers — in fact, we’ve spilled a generous amount of digital ink on this very site examining how the burgeoning YA market has forever altered the publishing strategy of one company, in particular, as they appear to be abandoning their artistic principles wholesale in an attempt to chase down a readership that may not even be there for the taking at this point and trust me when I say that what’s true for Drawn+Quarterly is just as true for Top Shelf, although the scale is vastly different given the latter puts out five or six books per year while the former puts out 30-40. So, yeah, SOME publishers still rely on people BUYING, READING, and maybe even LIKING their books — but what about everyone else?

Certainly, Marvel’s success in the “wider world” hasn’t translated into any sort of appreciable sales bump for their printed product — the comics market as a whole is slightly up compared to where it was a few years ago, and up a bit more than that if we cast our sights back a decade or so, but the idea that a comic like Thor only moves a thousand or two more copies a month than it did BEFORE three multi-million-dollar blockbusters were extrapolated from it has to be considered something of a disappointment no matter how one chooses to look at it. Ditto for Spider-Man. And The X-Men. And Doctor Strange. And — well, all of ’em. Clearly, then, some sort of fundamental disconnect exists between the “comics crowd” and the “movie crowd,” even when it comes to the EXACT SAME characters and content.

In fact, the two markets are so completely divorced from one another at this point that Marvel and DC aren’t even really bothering with one of the oldest tricks in the book anymore : launching a new series to coincide with the release of a big-budget film. When DC did this back in 1989, releasing the new Batman series Legends Of The Dark Knight at roughly the same time as Tim Burton’s Batman film, the results were spectacular, with LOTDK #1 becoming the biggest-selling comic of the year and the biggest-selling first issue of ANY comic in almost 50 YEARS. By the time 2012 rolled around and Marvel released a new Avengers #1 within weeks of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers movie, though, no one gave a shit and the series fizzled out within a few short years — only to be replaced by ANOTHER new Avengers #1 just in time for the Avengers : Age Of Ultron flick. That title was even shorter-lived, however, and by the time the third and fourth Avengers films rolled around, Marvel had thrown in the towel on the whole concept of cashing in quick with new comics to accompany new movies.

Obviously, then, REALLY popular films don’t translate into comic book sales, but the reverse is also true : REALLY popular comics don’t necessarily lead to box office fortunes. DC has learned this the hard way more than Marvel has, of course, with top-selling titles like Watchmen and top-selling storylines like the death of Superman failing to catch fire with theater-goers (although the widely-held view that Batman V. Superman‘s $900 million box office take represented a “disappointment” may have more to do with a successful “whisper campaign” directed against both the film and its fortunes than it does with financial realities — I mean, come on, I know we live in absurd times, but the idea that a movie that rakes in just under a BILLION DOLLARS is a “flop” is just plain nuts), but in its own way this is just further proof of the argument that I’m laying out, is it not? Comic book CHARACTERS are more popular than ever, but comic books THEMSELVES are almost becoming surplus to requirements, while comic book SALES offer nothing by way of a “leading indicator” as to what will or won’t be popular with the broader, entertainment-starved public.

From a purely logical point of view, nothing about this makes any real sense, of course, but logic also dictates that the super-hero movie craze probably should have died out years ago, yet here we are. As is the case with the multinational banks, then, it appears as though we’ve entered a period of history where at least Marvel, and maybe even DC, are quite simply “too big to fail,” and we’re going to be stuck with them for the rest of our fucking lives — but how long will they even BOTHER sticking with an archaic “delivery system” for their stories? 

Already Marvel Unlimited, the company’s digital comics platform, is more or less DARING readers to stick with printed periodicals, given they offer almost everything in the publisher’s vast back catalogue for something like six or seven bucks a month and have gone from having a one-year lag between print and digital availability to a mere a six months, and now just THREE months, while DC is doing their level best to chase off what readers they have left by slowly rolling out an absurdly high $4.99 cover price on more and more of their books. Factor in the inherently limited reach of so-called “direct market” distribution, and you honestly have to wonder if either of these companies even CARES about selling comics anymore, because it sure doesn’t look like it. Sure, they need stories to make movies out of, but more and more often what we see on the big screen bears little to no resemblance to any printed-page antecedent — original screenplays are taking the place of adapted ones, origins of characters are radically altered, entire modern-day mythologies are scrapped in favor of new, POST-modern ones. Hell, if you look at the comic book version of Aquaman and the cinematic version, about all they have in common is a name.

Admittedly, the demise of the monthly “floppy” has been predicted for years now and it has yet to come to pass, but I’m not really here to echo that death knell — Marvel and DC will continue to publish comics for as long as they FEEL like publishing comics. They simply don’t seem concerned about SELLING too many of them at this point, and aren’t going to invest any real capital into boosting their circulation figures. They need SOME readers, sure — but evidently not a whole lot of ’em. What they DON’T need is the publicity black eye they’d get from shutting down their publishing operations, so as long as they can run things on the cheap (and we all know they do), and make a few bucks’ profit at the end of the day, their parent companies will keep tolerating their continued existence as a necessary hassle.

So — do Marvel and DC need readers? I guess so. At least a few — and at least for now. What’s perhaps MORE surprising, though, is that there is a veritable gaggle of middle-rung publishers who don’t seem to  need ANY readers AT ALL to stay afloat — but we’ll get into that next time.

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This essay originally appeared on my Patreon site, and is presented here as part of a craven week-long event to gin up interest in getting YOU, dear reader, to subscribe to said site.

And, really, why not? You get three new posts on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics every week, and subscribing costs as little as a buck a month. Check it out over here : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse