Thursday, July 31, 2008

Are Trade Paperback Collections Ruining Comic Sales?

With publishers complaining about comic book sales being down, you have to look for reasons. The quality of the stories and art are the first thing that come to mind, but what else is there?

A few years ago, I began to notice a trend in my favorite titles. The days of the single-issue story were gone. Every single story arc seemed to take exactly 6 issues to run (Ultimate Spider-Man seemed to be the worst, though all the titles have taken this up now). Sometimes that would be all right, but there were times when it seemed like the story was just dragging in the middle to fill issues.

Then the trade paperbacks started pouring in. Suddenly those six months of wading through a story could be finished in one sitting if one was patient enough to wait for them. Eventually, I began to skip some titles completely just to wait for the TPB. Now with the TPB's arriving within three months of the final issue of the story arc, it makes more sense than ever to wait.

Individual comic books can cost $4 each (a long way from the quarter comic books I started reading as a child). Six issues of a story at that price will run you $24 sans tax. A TPB of the story will usually run an average of $15-$20, depending on the title. Buying from will get you an even bigger discount. So if you're willing to be patient and wait, where is the downside to this? There's not one!

Even though I love certain titles, most of my comic reading now comes in six-month increments. I catch up on X-Factor, Green Lantern, Brave and the Bold, Batman, JLA, and many others after patiently waiting for their six-issue story to end. As far as I'm concerned to those publishers, they could put out the title twice and year and make the same money.

Publishers lamenting the loss of monthly sales should consider that casual comic readers no longer have a jumping-on point in most titles. If you don't hit it perfectly, then you're in the middle of some story with no clue what's going on. Detective Comics is the only one that still ran one- or two-issue storylines last year, but even they have begun a 5-parter for the Batman R.I.P. story.

Now Marvel has taken it a step further by publishing certain titles as an omnibus. No longer sticking to six-issues, now you can get 25 stories or more in one hardcover collection. This will run you about $60 or more, and can break your arm if you try to just hold it and read, but it's a way to get a comprehensive look at a character in huge chunks. So now the question is no longer "Do I wait six months to read a story?" but is now "Do I wait a couple of years to catch it all?"

I know it's more convenient to read all six parts of a story in one sitting, but is that fair to the monthly readers? Publishers, if you are dead-set on six-part stories for future TPB sales, then don't lament the loss of monthly sales from those of us who just sit it out and wait. And yes, I understand not buying a monthly title actually works against it because that means low sales, and low sales is quick death to a comic now. But I try to stay on a budget each month, and you can spend over $20 just buying 4 or 5 titles in one week.

Originally, those trade paperbacks were called "graphic novels", and they were stories that you couldn't buy anywhere else. Stories like The Death of Captain Marvel, X-Men: God Loves...Man Kills, and others were available only as a TPB, and it drove sales to it. They were thick, had detailed artwork, and worth every penny. If publishers have so many six-part stories floating around waiting in line for a TPB, why not bring back the graphic novel as an art form? Give us those stories in one chunk in one sitting, and put it out there as we've never seen it before. Give us alternatives to the monthly stories. I'd be willing to pay $25 or more for one of those meaty stories, and it would build excitement for it because it's not something we'd already seen on the shelves. For now, we're just recycling the same stories.

To see the other thing I think is crippling comic book sales (at least for one publisher), here's my previous post about subscription services.

What about you? Are there titles you skip on a monthly basis because you know you can save money and read the whole thing at once later?

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Most Recurring Smackdowns in Comics

In this "Smackdowns" trilogy, I wanted to take a moment to look at some of the fights we've seen just a dozen times too often. The first time they fought, it was iconic. The second time was "The Rematch of the Century". Then it started getting a little boring. Here are some fights that have happened waaaaay too often:

Superman vs. Batman

You know, for two friends these guys seem to go at it pretty regularly. The best of the fights has to be the climactic battle that ends "The Dark Knight Returns". An aging Batman is covered in armor and even has some Kryptonite snuck in there somewhere, facing an older Superman who works for the government and is there to shut him down. Even though the end never seemed in doubt, after the incredible story we'd read up to that point in TDKR, we couldn't be sure. This wasn't the Batman we'd grown up with, and we thought he just might win. He didn't, of course, but that didn't stop the fight from being close and awesome.

Unfortunately, the rematches we've seen since then have paled in comparison and really started to get old. The "using Kryptonite" idea was cool the first time we saw it, then it sort of became the easy out. The awesome "Hush" storyline years ago brought us the return of Jason Todd and the creation of Hush, a villain uniquely cool in that he knew Batman's secrets and wasn't afraid to use them against him. It also brought us yet another Batman versus Superman fight. This time Supes was under control of Poison Ivy, so it was cool in that he really wanted to hurt Batman this time, but of course Batman pulled out the Green K and proceeded to beat down Supes yet again. Ok DC Comics, we get it: Batman's brains could beat Superman's superior speed, strength, and stamina. Enough already. Move on.

But if you really think he's so smart, then explain this...

Batman vs. The Joker

Who honestly gives a flip anymore about seeing these two together? I know the new Batman movie brings them together again and yes, that's cool. But in the comic book world we've seen them collide so many times it has lost any meaning at all. The Joker is going to show up, do something horrible to someone (he crippled Batgirl, he killed Jason Todd/Robin, etc), Batman is going to say "This is the last time. Tonight we end this.", and they're going to fight. The Joker gets locked up, Batman is satisfied that Gotham is safe again even though the Joker escapes jails more often than Houdini, and we wait until next year when they'll face off again "For the Final Time". Please.

The only time this battle ever got interesting was again in The Dark Knight Returns. And even then Batman didn't kill the Joker, but at least he died! Please, give us something different. Batman is this super-tough hero, yet even though this psycho baddie cripples one partner and kills another, he just keeps hitting him a little and putting him away. Someone give Batman the Punisher's cell phone number and let him come to Gotham and fix this problem once and for all!

Superman vs. Captain Marvel

I promise I'm not picking on Superman with this list, but it seems like DC just thinks every time they want to prove someone is tough they throw them up against him. Case in point: Captain Marvel. They fought for the first time in 1976. Two years later they had one of those giant books they used to put out for a while in the 70's. Both men were mind-controlled and it was nice, but ended with no clear winner.

The Kingdom Come fight scene is the only one that has ever done this pair justice, and that's just because Billy was crazy and really wanted to hurt him this time. Otherwise, it seems the standard "You punch me through a building, I punch you through a mountain" kind of fight.

It's been done and we know it's a close call because of Captain Marvel's magic origin (one of Superman's weaknesses). Yet, in spite of the fact that there has never been a clear cut winner between the two of them in any battle, DC keeps throwing them together like it's supposed to be fresh and thrilling. Fortunately, Billy Batson is now in charge of the Rock of Eternity and Freddy Freeman (formerly Captain Marvel, Jr.) is the new Captain Marvel, so I doubt we see these two tussle again any time soon.

As far as seeing Freddy Freeman coming after Supes at some point in the future...well, that's almost a guarantee.

Spider-Man vs. The Green Goblin

"The Joker" to Spider-Man's "Batman", these two have been going at it for decades. It was thrilling for a while, especially after Norman Osborn (the first GG) learned Peter's secret identity. Then he was instrumental in the death of Gwen Stacy, adding to his sinister persona. And then he was killed. Case closed, or so we thought.

Harry Osborn (his son) eventually picked up the mask and glider and went after Spidey. It was the same battle, but not really since there was another man behind the mask. It was still all good. But now Peter couldn't stop the Goblin without hurting his best friend. Then Harry died, but Norman came back and we started all over again.

This is a fight that has grown old and is time to end. The problem we have is that Norman Osborn is over in Thunderbolts pining after Parker and fighting to keep his sanity while Peter's entire life has rebooted in Amazing Spider-Man thanks to the tripe that is "Brand New Day". Harry's alive again, but does Norman know that yet? Are we back to square one on this fighting twosome? Probably. Why try a new idea when the old one works so well, right?

The X-Men vs. Magneto

Holy cow, let this one die! From the very first issue of the X-Men these two have been at it. The X-Men beat him down, Magneto forms his own team of bad mutants. The X-Men beat them, he finds more. They beat them, he goes it solo, thinking he's got them this time. They beat him again. He moves to an asteroid in orbit, and they fly up there and beat him. He decides to lead the X-Men, and they let him. Then he turns evil again, and they fight some more. He gets his own country and decides to leave the rest of the world alone if they leave him alone, and the X-Men go after him again.

You know, eventually you come to a point where everyone but the bad guy realizes he's just not going to win--ever. Marvel has spent so much time making him this big unbeatable bad guy, but then he always gets beaten. Give it up. Retire him and leave him be. Or if you really want to do it right, let him actually die saving the world like Hal Jordan did in "The Final Night". At least then we could develop some respect for him. Otherwise, he just seems like an old man sitting in a rocker on his porch screaming at the kids to get off his lawn. "What are you going to do if we don't, old man? Nothing!"

Next Monday, we'll look at the some of the stupidest fights ever thrown together in a comic book.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Breakdown of the Superhero Summer Blockbusters

Well, there can be no doubt it's been a banner year for superhero movies. Three major heroes have had movies this year, and they were all met with open arms. With The Dark Knight rounding out its first week setting record sales, I wanted to glance back at the three films and see what made them work. Hopefully the studios will take this trend and keep it moving into the next films.

Iron Man

Ok, I confess I've never been an Iron Man fan, and it really seemed weird how Marvel turned him into this really heavy character right before the movie came out, but I walked out of the theater loving what I'd just watched. Robert Downey, Jr. was the absolutely perfect choice for Tony Stark, and the fact that they stayed so true to the comics in the costuming was great. I was afraid we were going to see some weird Sci-Fi look, but it was the comic book come alive! They set themselves up nicely for a sequel as well.

What Worked:
They stayed true to the comic book. No angst-ridden killer disease that forces him to create armor to save the world from himself, or anything. This was straight from the comics for the most part (with some creative license thrown in for fun). Iron Monger was tweaked a good bit, but it all made sense in the end.

It was sort of realistic. No, it could never happen, but they managed to keep it so close to possible it's scary. As we watched Tony Stark trying to learn how to maneuver this awkward suit and make it fly, we actually believed that's what it would be like. He didn't just jump into the suit and fight like he'd been there all his life...there was a learning curve.

The stinger after the credits. If you didn't stay until the credits were over, you missed the biggest comic movie character cameo in years. When it comes out on DVD, fast forward through it all and prepare to enjoy 90 seconds of geek happiness. "Avenger initiative"...heh.

The Incredible Hulk

After the incredible letdown of The Hulk, this movie had so much going against it that I don't see how it ever got off the ground. Still, I'm glad some executive somewhere saw the potential in this character and decided to give it another shot. This one had a lot more action than the first, and the Hulk actually talked! Very nice!

What was weird was how this movie paid homage to the first film in a lot of ways, yet still managed to stay as its own. I can't say I was stoked to hear that Edward Norton would be taking over as Bruce Banner, but he managed to turn in a great performance. That final scene in the cabin was absolutely incredible for setting the stage for future movies.

While this one made the least amount of money of the three, I still think it was a nice addition to the Summer.

What Worked:
We saw the hero in the first 15 minutes of the film! For some reason, Ang Lee thought we were paying good money to see a movie call "The Hulk" but we didn't really want to see the big green guy, so he held out for the first hour before bringing him in. Bad move.

Action! Yes, we saw the inner struggle of Bruce Banner, but there was smashing in this one! The Hulk/Abomination fight was just like you'd imagine a real comic book smackdown to be like. He fought the army and the bad guy, and looked cool. I think Lou Ferrigno was a great guy, but his Hulk never jumped through the city at high speeds, or clapped out a fire. And yes, I know the Hulk looked like a video game character, but it's still better than getting some professional wrestler to wear green body paint for an hour!

Iron Man! To have a cameo like that from a movie that came out a month earlier was a home run! It helped build on the stinger from Iron Man, but they gave it to us before the credits this time.

The Dark Knight

Put aside the fact that Heath Ledger is dead and Christian Bale beats his mom...this movie would have rocked without all the publicity. Take the gritty parts of Batman Begins, jack them up five notches, and throw in a version of the Joker that truly is psychotic and scary, and you have a perfect comic book movie.

I'm thankful they gave up on trying to give Two Face a make-up job and just went with straight special effects. Yes, it was over the top (why wouldn't his eye have dried out, or burned up?), but it was better than the purple glop monster Tommy Lee Jones was supposed to be.

The only thing wrong with this film was their choice of a replacement Rachel Dawes. I know Katie Holmes was locked away in a Scientology camp somewhere, but you can't tell me they couldn't find someone who looked decent to take the role! Maggie Gyllenhaal looked better suited to play Aunt May than Batman's love interest.

And Aaron Eckhart has my vote for the role of Captain America in the upcoming film. Watch the movie and see if you don't see the resemblance there.

What Worked:

The villains. Jack Nicholson was crazy, Caesar Romero was the clown prince of crime, but Heath Ledger was scary psycho! This was the Joker I could see if they ever filmed a movie based on The Killing Joke. It would be easy to see him walk in, shoot Barbara Gordon and slowly torture Jim Gordon into crazytown. And the tragic creation of Two Face really gave depth to the character we'd never seen before. Yes, both villains had been in other Batman films, but they'd never been given the weight of these two. I love how they scrapped both villain's origins and made them their own, but still managed to stay faithful to the concept.

The hero. Christian Bale manages to do what no other Batman has done before: he makes the character human but still tough. We see him recover from his bruises and cuts, but at the same time you honestly believe he could hurt you. The beating he gave the Joker in the interrogation room was proof of that.

The secondary characters. Jim Gordon keeps developing as a character even more than Batman. He's a family man devoted to protecting Gotham City, and he manages to be a hero in the midst of "supers" all around him. Lucius Fox was great as this quiet, stalwart bastion of right, but still managed to get his gearhead moments in there as well. Alfred was good, though severely under-used this time through compared to the last film.

In case you didn't notice, this film gets my vote as best of the three. The thing that amazes me is how DC continues to put all their eggs in this basket. They have just as big a stable of characters to pull from for possible movies, but they never move on anything but Batman.

Coming Attractions

This year still holds the Punisher War Zone movie, but I'm not holding high hopes for it. Marvel is even snubbing the San Diego Comic-Con this year because they say they have nothing to preview (not good news for Wolverine fans...if they aren't wanting to hype their only hero movie for next year, how good could it be?). However, next year promises us Watchmen (if you can judge it from the previews it's going to be HUGE!), The Spirit (there's still hope for this one), and the aforementioned X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It may be a quiet Summer for superheroes next year, but we still have a couple of nice highlights to look forward to.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New Avengers #43 - Revelations in the Savage Land

After months of speculation, Marvel finally gives us a powerful reveal in New Avengers #43 (and thanks to my killer Marvel subscription, I got it a day in advance!). At last we get to see the confrontation between Captain America and Spider-Man that was left dangling two issues ago and the truth about this Captain America is well as another major question we've had for a while.

The story itself is good. It's more of the same old backstory we've been fed for months in this title and Mighty Avengers, but we got a little taste of the present as bookends in this story. As I speculated last week in my Skrull Scorecard, our spaceship Captain America isn't who he appears to be, but that's hardly a surprise. What is a surprise is where all those heroes came from...and when their brainwashing began.

I've heard how important the Kree-Skrull War was since this all began but it's seemed a relatively minor event in this Invasion. This issue makes it a major one after all. We see the extent of the brainwashing the Skrulls used, and we see why the "heroes" coming off that ship are so sure they're the real thing.

There's no mention of it in the book, but Mockingbird has to be a Skrull too. But I'd have to say it would be a cool plot twist to make her human so we know there were a few heroes captured that got away. Otherwise, it sort of settles things for the spaceship heroes once and for all.

Again, this is mostly a backstory issue, but I'll have to say this story might make you feel sorry for a brainwashed Skrull in the midst of all this. They've got us cheering for Captain Marvel, so who's to say they couldn't turn a few others for the good?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dumb Hero Names

A hero is known by their name. When a villain screams: "It's the Batman!", they run in fear and terror. Unfortunately, with so many heroes running around, they can't all get cool names. Some folks are stuck with the leftovers. Here are some folks whose names probably never struck anything more than confusion in the folks they fought:

Mister Fantastic

Perhaps the most conceited-sounding name ever, it's really bad when you consider Reed Richards gave the name to himself! I would have thought the other members of the team might have seen this as a little vain, but they just accepted it and ran with it. The weird thing is that it has absolutely nothing to do with his powers. He stretches! We have Plastic Man, Elastic Lad, and even The Elongated Man...what made him so much more special than those guys? He wasn't even unique! I'm willing to cut him some slack though, because Stan Lee was just starting out with a great concept here, and probably never thought the comic would still be around four decades later.


When you hear this name, you think about a woman with jewelry doing a lot of dancing around barefoot with a tambourine, and possibly with a hunchback dude watching her from a bell tower. Either that, or a Stevie Nicks song comes to mind quickly. You just don't picture that as a superhero, and especially not a member of the Justice League of America! But that's exactly who she was.

And yes, DC did manage the indignity of forcing her to run around barefoot while the rest of the heroes got shoes (even Aquaman--a swimmer!--got boots!). And her powers really had nothing to do with a gypsy. She didn't dance, she couldn't tell fortunes, and she did have a home. She just dressed like a gypsy.

Strong Guy
Now a member of X-Factor again, this was a pretty easy choice of a name. Imagine how it went:

"I have an idea for a hero. He's strong."
"Cool. What kind of name do you have in mind for him?"
"Um, he's strong."
"Works for me."

Yep, he was strong. And what a wimp out on the name. Fortunately, Marvel didn't do this with all their characters. Imagine: Captain America would be "Shield Throwing Guy", or Spider Man would be "Sticks To Walls guy".

The Atom

Not Ray Palmer, because his name makes sense. He's The Atom, and he gets super small. I'm talking about Al Pratt here, the JSA version.

He didn't shrink, he was just short...and we're not talking dwarf size here. He was just a short guy who liked to fight. It would be years after his introduction that he would be exposed to Cyclotron's energies and develop superhuman speed, strength, and stamina. In the beginning he was just a normal guy with an inferiority complex who wanted to focus all the attention he could on his one imagined flaw. Shouldn't someone in the JSA have made mention of the fact that an atom is really, really small? Perhaps something more suitable would be "Short Man", "Stumpy", or just "Yeah, I know, I'm not tall" Guy?


Ok, so you hear this name, and what would be the conversation there?

"Oh, you're Speedy? So I guess you run fast?"
"Um, no."
"So what do you do?"
"I wear red and shoot arrows at bad guys."
"So why isn't your name 'Red Arrow' then?"
"I have no idea."

Flash had Kid Flash. Aquaman had Aqualad. Green Arrow wore green and shot arrows. His teen sidekick wore red and shot arrows. Where was the stretch in this name? Fortunately they've fixed it now and he's got the name he should have had to begin with, but he spent years trying to explain this one to folks I'm sure.

The Calculator

I know he's big stuff now in the DC underworld and is the puppet master for the most part, but what kind of name was this? And he's given up the costume to go with a more subtle image, but can you blame him?

You hear this name, and it doesn't really strike fear into the hearts of folks. The only time you'd see someone react in terror when they heard: "Oh no, it's The Calculator!" would be if the villain worked for the IRS and someone was cheating on their taxes.

Unfortunately, The Calculator never really got to create his "Back To School Gang". Imagine this lineup: The Calculator, with his partners Slide Rule, Protractor, Number 2 Pencil, and Magic Marker!

The Thing

I don't think it would be possible to be more generic than this. Not "Rock Guy", or "Tough Stone Guy", but just "The Thing". A little weak to say the least. While we had "The Invisible Girl" (she turned invisible) and "The Human Torch" (a guy who catches on fire...gotcha), the other two members of the team ended up with pretty lame titles. At least his name was a little more humble than Reed Richards went with. I guess he could have said, "Mister Fantastic? Well, I'm even better, so I'm gonna be Captain Fabulous!"

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Skrull Secret Invasion Scorecard

So they've been among us for years, and we just found out about it recently. Those pesky Skrulls...what will they think of next? Well, since it officially began, the Invasion has been hitting us hard and heavy. Just in case you've missed a thing or two, here's how we stand so far:

Definitely A Skrull:

Elektra - Her death brought the whole thing about.

Hank Pym - We just found out what happened to him. Seduced by a Skrull, then knocked out and replaced by the same. Awkward!

Jarvis - Not the most stellar of choices, but it sure turned out to be a good one for the information it allowed them access to.

Black Bolt - Go back and read World War Hulk and try to make this work. It doesn't. Still, he was proven to be a Skrull in Illuminati #5, so it's a fact.

Captain Marvel - A little sticky here since he is a Skrull, but he's overwhelmed by Mar-vell's memories and hatred of the Skrulls, so he's working against them by working with them. But come on, did anyone really think they'd bring the real deal back?

Dum Dum Dugan - Didn't start out this way, but with that first mysterious "He loves you", Dum Dum was blasted and we've seen him replaced in recent scenes. The only advantage I could see in this was a way to get close to Nick Fury, but after finding out his girlfriend was a Skrull I don't think he's going to trust any of his old friends.

Spider-Woman - Actually, she's the queen herself. It's still a little hard to make this work since she was so close to Nick Fury after the supposed switch, but she never tried to stop him. But we know for a fact from the storyline itself, she's a Skrull.

Savage Land spaceship Skrulls dead and confirmed as Skrulls: Spider-Man, Beast, Phoenix, Hawkeye. Vision is a confirmed Skrull because of his actions against Sentry, but he is not dead yet.

Possibly A Skrull:
Iron Man - They're just playing with us here, but they want us to think he could be a fake. It would explain the whole Civil War mess, but don't hold your breath. This is Marvel, and they don't take the easy way on any of it. My vote: Definitely not.

Doctor Strange - It would explain a lot about his recent actions right after the World War Hulk incident and the New Avengers Annual. My vote: Most definitely.

Sentry's wife - She was killed during the Ultron attack on Stark Tower, and then she was fine after Sentry's rampage on Ultron for killing her? This little fact hasn't really been played up, and no explanation has ever been offered for it. Add to this the fact that she tried to get Iron Man to kill Sentry just as the invasion was starting (for their own safety, she says), and she's got so 'splainin' to do! My vote: Yes.

Captain America - Steve Rogers was shot and killed. While I'd love to believe he was a Skrull, we saw his body later and it just sort of withered up. Every other Skrull that's been killed in human form has immediately turned back into a Skrull. Cap may not be dead, but whoever got shot wasn't a Skrull. My vote: No way.

Jessica Jones - Remember, just after we saw that iconic scene of Elektra turning out to be a Skrull, we saw Jessica and Luke Cage's baby suddenly get this weird green glint in its eyes. One of the parents is a Skrull, and the easy money goes on Jessica rather than Luke. My vote: Very likely.

Mockingbird - Despite a touching reunion in the Savage Land between Ronin/Hawkeye and his wife (thought dead for years), there's no way she's the real thing. Every other hero from that spaceship has been shown to be a Skrull, so why should she be any different? Weird choice of a hero to impersonate, but considering the fact that she was at one time a SHIELD agent, it makes a little sense. My vote: Yes.

Definitely Not a Skrull:

Nick Fury - He's been waiting for this moment for a long time. He's our only hope. Let's hope we're right.

Thor - As we saw at the end of Secret Invasion 4, he's a little ticked right now at the green guys.

Spider-Man - How I wish it were so, but it's not. This whole "Brand New Day" thing is real.

Wolverine - Shot by Black Widow in Secret Invasion 4, we saw him heal up rather than die. Besides, there's no way they'd touch this one.

Reed Richards - He's the major catalyst behind their hatred for us. And we're seeing him tortured all the time in the story.

Black Panther - Marvel's rule is simple: kill, maim, or torture whoever you want to, but nobody touches the Panther! Besides, he's about to single-handedly wipe out the Skrull Invasion himself...haven't you seen the ads in the comics?

Echo - They tried to trick her and pull her in, but she's still holding strong. She was the one who killed the Skrull Elektra and showed us the truth.

The Sentry - Skrulls are tough. He's too busy crying in space. And besides, they've already said he was the one person who could stop they hurt his feelings and made him go wet himself while hiding in the rings of Saturn.

Maria Hill - Now leading SHIELD since her boss, Tony Stark, has gone bats in the Savage Land, we've seen her standing alone against her own agents (now shown to be Skrulls) while Jarvis demands her surrender. Not sure what makes her so special, but she's one of us.

All this, and Marvel has promised some major Skrull reveals in the final 3 issues of Secret Invasion. I don't know who they've been holding back from us, but it should be interesting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mighty Avengers 16 - Whatever Happened to Elektra?

The first inclination we had that anything was happening was when Elektra turned out to be a Skrull. Then it was a matter of "Who else?" But before we forget her completely, Mighty Avengers 16 gives us insight into her abduction.

Going all the way back to New Avengers #1, we see a pivotal scene from that series played out from a different perspective. We finally see who was orchestrating the whole Raft breakout. It's an interesting twist, but not mind-blowing.

Then we see Elektra's abduction. I'll have to say this for her, she puts up a good fight. Going against several Skrulls with various superpowers, she manages to take a few down before it's over. Of course, she loses and gets replaced.

The biggest problem I have with Mighty Avengers and New Avengers since the Invasion started is how Marvel is using both titles as sort of a "backstory dump". The stories no longer flow from issue to issue, but end abruptly and then pick up with an entirely new story the next issue. For example, this issue ends with "Next Month: The Truth About Hank Pym". I know the main storyline is happening in the Secret Invasion title, but perhaps Marvel should have come out with a second miniseries (like the "Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust?" one shot they had), perhaps called Secret Invasion: Abductions and used that as the story dump. As I've said in previous posts, I'm no fan of DC's "miniseries from a miniseries" approach to Final Crisis, but at least Marvel is telling a linear story in Secret Invasion. This would have been a good use of that second miniseries concept (as long as they didn't go overboard like DC has with no less than four different miniseries coming out of Final Crisis while it's still going on).

Two months ago in New Avengers, the story ended with Spider-Man and Ka-Zar in the Savage Land suddenly being attacked by Captain America (most likely a Skrull, but still...). The next month, it was a completely different story and we're still waiting to see what happened in that fight. It's getting a little frustrating.

But since this is what we're stuck with and we might as well get over it and move on, I'll have to say it is interesting to see what all had to go on behind the scenes to make this invasion happen. For the most part, this is good storytelling.

But again I have to ask: Where are the heroes who have been replaced?

Monday, July 14, 2008

When Reboots Go Away

Reboots can be a way to breathe fresh life into a stale character, but sometimes a publisher is just doing this as a gimmick. They have no intention of keeping the character changed. Then there are times when the reboot just doesn't work with the fans and things must be made right. Let's look at reboots that were hyped...and then reversed.

Green Lantern

This one almost isn't fair because thanks to the Green Lantern Corps you can pull out a new GL whenever you get tired of the current one, but I'll mention it anyway. Hal Jordan was considered the greatest Green Lantern of them all, until Coast City was destroyed by Mongul and Hal went crazy and killed many of the Lanterns to get their rings to recreate the city. After you kill your friends, folks tend to look at you a little askew. DC wanted to breathe life into this sagging title, so they decided to take this beloved hero and turn him into the craziest wacko they could. After killing Sinestro and eventually losing the rings and becoming Parallax, the last Guardian left gave the ring to Kyle Rayner, an artist who had no desire to be a superhero. Kyle's artistic background gave the hero some new stuff to work with because Kyle's ring constructs were a little more creative than Hal's had been. Eventually, Hal gave his life to save the universe and became the Spectre for a while, but since he hadn't just dropped off the face of the Earth like Barry Allen (The Flash) did, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before DC brought him back. They did in a miniseries called "Rebirth", and suddenly Hal was back in charge of Earth. Kyle later became Ion, then back to Green Lantern, and is currently helping to lead the newly reformed Green Lantern Corps against the Sinestro Corps.

Kyle was a great choice as GL. I wasn't thrilled with him at first, but they really managed to make him a good character. His ring lost the yellow weakness, and being the only Green Lantern made him a little more unique than Hal had been. Watching Kyle adjust to his first days in the Justice League were great because he had that awe that any normal person would have in the presence of great heroes. Fortunately, DC didn't kill him off when Hal came back, and we still get to see Kyle around.


For a while in the 90's DC was brutal to their icons. After coming off the high of killing the Flash and Supergirl in one miniseries in the 80's, they wanted to go bigger and better in the next decade. The result was a Batman reboot that was thankfully short-lived. Someone lets loose all the baddies in Arkham and Batman has to bring them in by himself. Why he didn't call the Justice League or even Superman I'll never know, but he gave it the old college try and ended up getting most of them. Unfortunately, this was just a ploy to wear him out before his big fight with a new baddie named Bane. In the ensuing fight, Bane snaps Batman's spine and leaves him crippled. A new Batman is needed, and rather than go with Dick Grayson (Bruce felt Dick had established himself as Nightwing and it would be an insult to ask him to take on the Batman's mantle) he chose Azrael, a slightly off-center hero.

Azrael started out promising. He slowly began to change Batman's appearance into someone more suited to fighting crime, and was incredibly tough on the villains. He even met up with the Punisher in a crossover story and earned the respect of Marvel's premiere anti-hero. Then, slowly (and quite coincidentally while Batman was healing up) he went crazy. He killed a villain, and kicked Robin out of the Batcave. Eventually we had the showdown we all knew was coming and Batman faced Azrael for the cape and cowl. Knowing he couldn't beat him with all that armor on, Batman led Azrael into an ever-shrinking tunnel in the Batcave, forcing Azrael to shed his armor piece by piece to fit into the tunnel and come after him. By the time they met, it was man-to-man, and Bruce showed him why he'd been able to live over the years without the fancy armor. It didn't last, but it was a very cool storyline while it was happening. I just wish Azrael had been able to kill the Joker before being stripped of the title.

The recent "Batman R.I.P." storyline makes it seem like DC is getting ready for a new reboot of this character again. Azrael won't be coming back in the suit, so I'm putting my money on either Dick Grayson or Jason Todd this time around.

The Flash

This is one of those characters who's been rebooted before (Barry Allen died and Wally West took over), but let's look at the latest reboot. When Wally West took over the role of the Flash from Barry Allen, it was the first major time in comic history that the teen sidekick had actually taken over the role of the adult hero they'd followed. Wally remained Flash for twenty real-time years until Infinite Crisis hit and they needed a Flash sacrifice. In a desperate battle to stop Superboy Prime, Wally and Bart Allen (Impulse) raced him into the Speed Force to stop him. Then Bart came back alone having aged a few years into a more mature teen. Although he closed Infinite Crisis with the revelation that he no longer had super-speed and that Jay Garrick was now the only Flash left, it changed quickly during the first issue of The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive. Bart regained his super-speed and actually did a great job of reinventing the hero. But then DC decided it was time to bring back Wally. Rather than take Bart back to the role of Impulse, they stripped him of his speed just as he was facing his Rogue's Gallery. They beat him down and killed him while Wally reappeared at the end of Justice League: The Lightning Saga. Wally eventually avenged Bart's death due to the machinations of a villain named Inertia, but the damage had been done. This was a 13 issue reboot and ranks right up there as one of the shortest, and there was no real reason for it. Bart was a great Flash and DC had done a good job of setting up this new hero. Now we have Wally West back with his two super-powered kids, and the stories are reading more like something from Tiny Titans than The Flash. Even though Barry Allen returned in Final Crisis #2, don't hold your breath for him to be the saving point of this series. More than likely he's taking another dirt nap before that miniseries ends and we'll be stuck with "The Adventures of the Wacky West Family" for a while longer.

Superman/The Reign of the Supermen

Following the trend of hurting the icons during the 90's, DC decided crippling a hero wasn't enough. It was time to kill somebody. Superman was the choice. The problem was how do you kill a hero that's defeated every villain you've ever sent at him? The answer was to create a new villain appropriately named "Doomsday". Doomsday tore through the Justice League without any problem, then faced Superman and beat him up a bit. In a final issue filled with nothing but splash pages, Superman finally stopped Doomsday (for a while anyway) at the cost of his own life (for a while anyway). The event received major news coverage and even people who didn't read comic books were lining up outside the shops to grab the "Death of Superman" issue. But of course, no death is permanent in comics. Before the corpse was even cold, four new contenders showed up, all claiming to be the new Superman. The cyborg version even claimed to be the actual Superman himself, but from the future. It was a mess that left four different versions of the hero running through four different titles for a very brief time. Eventually the real thing showed up again sporting a black and silver suit and long hair. The cyborg turned out to be a bad guy, the guy in armor became "Steel", the teen version became Superboy and eventually died saving the universe in Infinite Crisis, and the really cool sunglasses version of Supes became The Eradicator. Supes eventually donned the familiar red-and-blue tights (but kept the long hair for years) and things were back to normal.

Captain America/Nomad/The Captain

Captain America has been rebooted a few times, but it never seems to stick. First, he gave up the suit to become Nomad. This only lasted 4 brief issues, however, giving Cap the award for "Shortest Reboot Ever". While he didn't last long in this incarnation, there was a funny scene in which Cap adjusts to wearing a cape (and subsequently tears it off) and trips on it during a fight. Eventually he grabs the shield again and fights in the red, white, and blue.

Then a few years later, Marvel decides it's time for another reboot. This time Cap is stripped of the mantle by the Presidential Commission on Superhuman Activities for failing to reenter government service. John Walker, known up to this time as Super-Patriot, is given the title and suit and becomes a rather more violent Captain America. Since Jack Munroe was Nomad at this time, Steve Rogers decides to try a different outfit on to fight crime. This time he keeps the shield, goes with basic black, and becomes simply "The Captain" (not the most original name of all time, that's for sure). Of course, this doesn't stick as folks wanted Steve Rogers and didn't take to John Walker all that well. To be fair, Marvel had never planned on keeping the change permanent anyway, so it was all a matter of working it into the storyline. Rogers and Walker swapped roles, but Walker chose the name "U.S. Agent" and is still active in the Marvel world today. He currently leads Omega Flight.

While Steve Rogers is now supposedly dead and the Captain America title currently being held by Bucky Barnes, it's doubtful this reboot will stick either. Steve Rogers is Captain America, plain and simple. The rest are imitators.

Spider-Man/Ben Reilly

DC had crippled and even killed off their two major icons, so Marvel wanted to show them they could still deal in the 90's. Their idea: reboot Spider-Man. The question was how to do that with a character who was such a vital part of the Marvel stable, and whose powers were so unique you couldn't just give the costume to some guy off the street and have it work out. Marvel's solution: bring in the clones!

Ok, so way back in the 70's a baddie named "The Jackal" made a clone of Peter Parker. Peter and the clone fought it out and Peter ended up dumping the clone down a smoke stack. The clone woke up and eventually found Peter with Mary Jane. Confused, the clone took up the name Ben Reilly and wandered the land for a while. When Peter and Ben finally confronted each other, it turned out that Peter was actually the clone and Ben was the real deal! Folks had been reading about a clone for the past 20 years!

Well, Peter and Mary Jane rushed off to what was supposed to be a quiet life while Ben took over as Spider-Man. He actually did a pretty good job of it for a while, but it wasn't to last. Peter came back and took over the costume again. Ben became the Scarlet Spider and still fought crime for a while before finally sacrificing himself to save Peter's life. After he died, Ben's body crumbled into dust, proving once and for all that Ben had been the clone and Peter was the real person after all.

For years, "The Clone Saga" was considered the worst storyline Marvel had ever done. It was the butt of numerous jokes and hurt Marvel's reputation in the mid-90's. To their credit, at least they didn't kill him and bring him back from the dead! Still, it has long been regarded as the low point for Marvel. It was insulting to the fans, and a little bit confusing during its run.

You would think after this horrible mess of a reboot, Marvel would have learned something, but you'd be wrong. Whereas we were told "Everything you've read for the last 20 years was wrong because you were reading the adventures of a clone!" before, Marvel recently went one better with "Everything you've read for the last 20 years was wrong because now it never happened!" with the new "Brand New Day" storyline.

Marvel, If you really wanted to make this work, end the marriage, and give us a new Spider-Man, you should have just killed Mary Jane off! At least then we would have had some seriously new directions for Spider-Man while not making us feel like we'd just wasted the last 20 years of reading the title...again.

So that finishes off my "When Reboots Go ___" trilogy. I'm sure I missed a few here and there, but these were the highlights as I saw them. No doubt we'll see more of these in the future because reboots are an easy out when a character gets boring and needs a little kick in the pants to get going again.
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