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Author Topic: Useless comics news, discussions, and recommendations  (Read 79247 times)
Khaldun
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Reply #490 on: July 07, 2019, 09:20:19 AM

They are really very parallel cases: same strengths, same weaknesses.

On one hand, there's no more powerful an incentive to turning in tomorrow/buying the next issue than seeing what happens next to characters you're invested in.

If those characters change in ways that aren't based in narrative, that breaks that incentive. Meaning, it's ok for the good wife to slowly give in to temptation and sleep with the handsome doctor she works with in the hospital; it's ok for Spider-Man to get married or Aquaman to lose a hand. But if a new writer comes on and says, "Eh, forget that this older woman on the show for three decades has three children and once had amnesia, I've decided that she's actually a man in disguise and is a secret agent and is also a brilliant physicist, because I'm taking the suburban setting of the show away and moving the characters into a high-powered university lab doing experiments for the government", that breaks everything even if the ideas wouldn't be terrible for another show (or even as a slow-developing shift in narrative emphasis). Same for comic books: "Hey, let's have the heroes fight a civil war, and let's make Mr. Fantastic sociopathic to the point of being evil and have him make an extradimensional gulag to stick superheroes in and let's have Tony Stark make a cloned Thor who will kill enemies and let's have the good guys be completely ok with using serial killers as allies" etc. where that just comes from nowhere is really jarring; even more when every two trade paperbacks or so, the fundamental basis of the storytelling and the characters are changed.

But soaps do run into the problem that the characters have such long narrative arcs that sooner or later everything that CAN happen to them DOES happen to them--they've all had amnesia, they've all died and come back, they've all had evil twins, they've all committed adultery, they've all become good guys, they've all committed crimes, etc. Because you have to keep the story moving. The same thing for comic books--if you overdo continuity, all the characters become ridiculously overstuffed with backstory (while remaining eternally about the same age). One of the many soft reboots of Batman a while back laid this out pretty clearly--there was no imaginable way for Batman at the eternal age of 33 or so to have mentored Dick Grayson from boyhood to young adulthood, mentored Jason Todd from boyhood to death to resurrection to young adulthood, mentored Tim Drake from about 12 to about 17, and had a relationship for about 3 years with his son Damian (even given that Damian was aged in a tank by his mother). And yet there they all were standing alongside him in order, each one with a backstory supposedly intact.

So you either need something that cleans out some of the backstory--maybe it's just quietly forgetting most of it while taking the most interesting and consequential stuff forward--or something more formal. I think the really radical move would be to allow fundamentals to change. The MCU seems on the verge of this--they seem to have decided not to take the "recast and keep it in the eternal present" route, but instead the "move on and evolve route". I could imagine that if they're still making movies in 10 years, Morgan Stark will become Iron Man 3.0, etc.  The comics could finally follow suit--stop telling stories of possible futures and alternate realities and actually let the characters age and change and die. Or the MCU could slowly lose commercial power, the whole thing wind down for a while, and then they recast and go back to the beginning, a la Spider-Man. I dunno. But definitely infinite serial storytelling doesn't work after a certain point.
Velorath
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Reply #491 on: July 07, 2019, 01:20:56 PM

On one hand, there's no more powerful an incentive to turning in tomorrow/buying the next issue than seeing what happens next to characters you're invested in.

But it works the other way also, where there's a powerful incentive to not want to get into something in the middle of a storyline. For TV shows, especially back when a lot of the long-running soaps started, that was a more common thing to do because you didn't have the means to go back to the beginning of any given show and you were at the mercy of what was being broadcast at the time. That changed with the ability to record shows, and then with streaming.

Comics were similar in that if you were getting into something you'd pick up the issue that happened to be on sale at the time and maybe if there were some back issues available that looked interesting or were mentioned in a footnote of another comic you had maybe you'd pick some of those up also. There was no internet to order issues off of, no subscription service offering an archive of digital issues, and it wasn't really advertised when a new creative team was jumping on.

Now with stuff like Marvel Unlimited, someone could potentially jump on to Spider-man from around the beginning and probably get a lot of ASM and maybe some of the other books, but there aren't a lot of people that are going to want to read through 57 years and counting of Spider-man stories. Even I don't want to do that. When I'm poking around on Unlimited I'm looking at particular runs or storylines.

They couldn't keep writing comics the way they always have, where every issue might be somebody's first and there's no clear transition from one creative team to the next, with everything just being part of an ongoing story. People consume media differently now and to ignore that and try to carry on business the way it's always been is a great way to become completely irrelevant. It's why a lot of soap operas that ran for decades have been canceled in the last ten or so years, and the ones that are left (in the U.S. anyway) have tiny amounts of viewers. Even wrestling's ratings have generally been in steady decline. This style of storytelling is catering to the people who are already invested in it, and each time one of those people moves on or dies they aren't being replaced.

Mind you I don't think they way they're currently doing things is bringing on boatloads of new readers, but I do think trying to change the model a bit is better than just hoping people randomly feel like jumping into reading Iron Man with issue #726 which continues on from the previous 725 issues and will just continue going and going.
HaemishM
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Reply #492 on: July 07, 2019, 03:01:00 PM

It's a delicate balancing act, and honestly, I think the biggest problem with the way they are doing it now revolves around the necessity to make everything a 6-issue trade paperback. Storytelling becomes so stretched that if you look back over say, Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman run (just finished reading this), what you have in essence is one long story told in about 4 mini-story parts. Reading comics in the '80's, a 12-issue run would literally have 8-12 complete stories. The narratives were denser and while I'm certainly not saying we have to go back to 1-2 issue stories with 30 panels a page, all stuffed with thought balloons and narrator boxes.

I think I'd really rather Marvel and DC just say that they are doing 5-year mega meta arcs, and then reboot the entire universe all over again, every character, every book.

Velorath
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Reply #493 on: July 07, 2019, 03:47:20 PM

Well even writing for the trade is becoming outdated these days because thatís a business model based around the idea of people buying physical books. Iím sure thatís actually still a big chunk of the market right now but over time Iím sure the trend is going to be away from that.

Digital still isnít quite there though especially since Marvel Unlimitedís layout is still a mess. Want to read any story that crosses over into other books and chronological order? Hope you have a reading list from some other site handy. Going through all the buildup for War of The Realms, they donít do a good job of suggesting a starting point and them compiling a reading order for you and taking you from book to book. They have a section for crossovers but itís pretty inadequate. They could also do a much better job of suggesting complementary reading material. Marvel hasnít fully embraced digital, and donít seem to be in a rush adding any sort of QoL features to the site.
HaemishM
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Reply #494 on: July 07, 2019, 07:08:20 PM

DC has the same problem with crossover material, and finding the right order to read things. Their marketing departments are amazingly bad at doing the simple things.

Velorath
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Reply #495 on: July 10, 2019, 10:06:11 AM

Read through all the issues of Immortal Hulk that are on Unlimited, and yeah this is amazing stuff. Joe Bennett's artwork is a great fit for the material, and the body horror stuff in particular is something I'm not used to seeing in comics in general let alone a Marvel "superhero" book. This is probably the best anybody has done of getting back to the original concept of the Hulk not being evil or a killer (mostly), but being fucking terrifying regardless and not just because he causes a lot of property damage. If you guys haven't checked it out already, you should.
Velorath
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Reply #496 on: August 22, 2019, 02:34:46 PM

Been keeping up with House of X and Powers of X and they're just about at the halfway point. On the one hand Jonathan Hickman is very far up his own ass on this one and it's so intentionally disjointed that it would be generous to call it a narrative. That said it also seems like the first time since Morrison that anybody has had an actual vision of what to do with the X-men and a few issues in at least some of the pieces start to fit together.
HaemishM
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Reply #497 on: August 22, 2019, 03:12:33 PM

Johnathan Hickman has NEVER been anywhere but deep, deep up his own ass.

Khaldun
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Reply #498 on: August 22, 2019, 05:34:39 PM

See, I think I would rather have Hickman at least *trying* to think of something new to do with the metanarrative of the X-Men than to have boring re-enactments of the 1990s go on forever.

The X-Men have a strange curse that maybe no other major comics property has. From conception to initial cancellation, they were just a team of teenage superheroes with an adult mentor. Most of them were strikingly underimagined or stereotypical--the intellectual who looks like a brute! the guy who makes ice! the guy who can fly (and nothing else!) The stoical, controlled "best student" with laser beams from his eyes who fears losing control! The beautiful telepath they all sort of love but who is really destined for the Best Boy!

As later writers have gone over that territory, sure, they've noticed some things--Professor X is a creep and he's horny for his student, Cyclops is a borderline depressive, Iceman is so much of a non-character that you wonder if there's something else there, etc. But it's not a very promising ground for later development.

The mutants-are-hated thing is there, but it's surprisingly not that big a deal most of the time. Magneto is a straight-out despotic nutcase of the usual sort--it's almost surprising Stan Lee didn't decide he was a communist as well.

Then Claremont comes along and blows the whole thing up. He kicks the dull characters off-stage. He brings in an international cast. He steals the best new Marvel character in a long time (Wolverine). He amps the mutants-are-hated-and-feared theme up to 11. He adds some weird fetish shit about mind control and dominatrixes. He does world-class soap-opera narrative structure--tons of subplots, tons of minor characters, lots of melodrama, lots of talkiness. Byrne does some of his best art and clearly also contributes to Claremont's plotting and characterization in some generative ways (just look at Byrne-less X-Men and you can see the difference). The X-Men blow up and become the most important Marvel property almost overnight (like, within a year).

And that about does it--it creates a baroque narrative and character structure that they never can get away from, and kind of odd centrality/non-centrality to the larger universe that's also a trap. So someone has to come along and knock that down. The only thing Marvel can do usually with that is kill all the mutants/resurrect all the mutants. They've got to find a way out. Either banalize the X-Men again (just one more group of people, like a 'family') or exoticize them in irreversable fashion. But stop fucking around in the endless limbo between the two.
Velorath
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Reply #499 on: August 22, 2019, 06:25:07 PM

I maintain that one of the biggest problems with the X-men is that they exist within the Marvel Universe where there are so many varieties of Super-humans, Aliens, super-scientists, God-beings, magical artifacts, etc..., that it always seems odd that the populace focus so much of their hate and fear on mutants.

As far as what Hickman is doing, I do appreciate that he's trying something different here. I'd probably appreciate it more if he could have done it as a story, rather than doing it as bits of 5 or 6 different stories at once interspersed with data pages that essentially act as annotations.

Still I have to admit, there is something to it. Without going into spoilers, he made a pretty big retcon to a long running character which basically acts as the framing device for why the story is being told in multiple time periods, some hundreds or possibly a thousand years in the future. Every issue right from the start introduces several ideas like this where my initial reaction is that it's a horrible idea and clearly there's no way any of this could work as a long term plan for the franchise within the MU. As it goes along though I'm starting to get ideas of where they might be going with it though.

I don't know, if either if you guys happen across any sites where you can read these rather than wait however long it takes for them to go up on Unlimited, I'd actually be very curious to hear your reactions to what's been released so far.
Khaldun
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Reply #500 on: August 22, 2019, 06:36:56 PM

I'm following it via blogs etc. I don't care so much about spoilers. I think the basic idea is a good one--treat the X-Men's entire history as a kind of repeated trap--a sort of Groundhog Day--that they and humanity have to find a way out of. I'm just not sure what status quo Hickman can be imagining as the end point, because his Big Ideas [tm] in every other case lead to the necessity of rebooting *everything*--they go so big and so meta that character and situation get lost and so that the story is so vast and abstract that you don't really have what would conventionally be called a "plot". I think we're in that territory here, but at least he's working with a character in an intimate and surprising way as the linchpin. (as opposed to picking out Reed Richards, who is so much a metafictional character already that he almost requires that treatment).

If he has a vision of an endgame that rescues the X-Men from being "the future of humanity" while also giving them a distinctive role in the Marvel Universe, he wins. I don't see it so far.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2019, 08:59:45 AM by Khaldun »
HaemishM
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Reply #501 on: August 22, 2019, 08:52:34 PM

Hickman's problem is he doesn't actually DO characters. His treatment of existing characters is so wooden and inconsistent that you could literally exchange any character in most of the places and it wouldn't matter. He makes shit happen with no regard for time scale. And then in the end, the entire premise is something that is so gigantic and abstract as to make all the characters who are not all-powerful beings (Celestials, Beyonders) irrelevant to the entire story with no way to affect anything. And then when it's over, the whole series should just be over because you can't go back to a status quo. He's like Grant Morrison without the talent.

Khaldun
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Reply #502 on: August 23, 2019, 09:12:36 AM

I think he has talent, but he really ought to be paired with another writer, even though comics ordinarily don't get created that way. But yeah, he specifically doesn't have Morrison's gift for metafictional humor or Morrison's attention to pulling up small details and turning them into something important. Or Morrison's ability to do character work, which is sometimes really quite remarkable.

But I give Hickman this--he can see the problem with the entire X-Men set-up and he can see that it can't be fixed via ordinary comics writing. The characters are in a trap that can't be escaped without changing everything; standard corporate comic-book management at this point is to intensely resist changing everything unless it's part of a massive synergistic plan for developing intellectual property across multiple platforms and media. I suppose that's really the issue--they might as well just spin the wheels on the X-Men until Kevin Feige et al decide how exactly they want to approach the X-Men. There's actually a pretty fair argument for just keeping the X-Men in a separate universe. If they're coming into the MCU, they've got to decide right away: are these just more super-heroes who are family (fine, that works) or is the MCU going to treat mutants as hated/feared/future of humanity/etc.? After Endgame, I don't know that they want to restart the Sokovia Accords schtick--the one thing you can say for the MCU so far is that it hasn't been repeating the same metanarrative over and over again, there's some actual momentum in the evolution of the characters and their setting. But that's how "mutants must be controlled/exterminated!" will sound if that's the way they go.

The problem in the comics is that you just cannot go back to that tight-knit "the X-Men are a family" schtick of Claremont/Byrne's New X-Men. The closest in tone to that in recent times was Jason Aaron's Wolverine and the X-Men, which focused on the school and on younger mutants. Worked pretty well but was pretty queasy when you consider that the same time Wolverine was being a basically amusing headmaster of a fairly light-hearted version of Xavier's school and part of a 'family' there, he was also serving as part of a covert assassination squad in some of the darkest stories in recent X-Men history. They can't reinvent these characters by radically contracting their mythos--that's been done multiple times and failed. They can't reinvent them by telling the ten thousandth version of "mutant massacres/Sentinel attacks" in a straight-up way; nor by doing another Phoenix story. I really dunno--I can't think of a more potentially appealing group of comic characters who are so seriously broken because of the way they've been developed over time.
Velorath
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Reply #503 on: Today at 01:13:38 AM

So many reviews for the first issue of J.J. Abrams Spider-man mini mention a "shocking twist" or the death of a major character. I don't know what book these guys were reading but it's a by the numbers alternate future. It's not a bold decision for the book to actually be about the son of Peter and MJ. A book about their teenage offspring was done before and better (and for quite a long time) in Spider-girl. Abrams book even has future-Peter missing part of a limb (although in this case it's his arm rather than his leg).

The major death is that MJ is killed off near the beginning of the issue. Not being a comic writer, Abrams clearly didn't get the memo that killing off important female characters just as a means to impact the male lead is a trope people have been trying to get away from in comics for the last decade or so. It's a trope Abrams fully embraces here, in this case as a way to get Peter to abdicate all sense of responsibility (as well as care of his son who is being raised by May) and quit being Spidey. Also, his son Ben has no idea his dad was ever Spider-man, and when his own powers start developing it's up to May to tell him because his father has completely left him in the dark.

J.J. co-wrote the book with his son, so I don't know if this is just entirely nepotism, or if it's nepotism with the purpose of working through their own family issues. Maybe Abrams the elder was some shitty absentee father, or maybe Abrams the Younger had to endure a childhood of every question he ever asked his dad being responded to with half and answer and three more questions. I think J.J. has acknowledged not having any particular affection for the character. I'm actually ok with that. You can write a book without having to be a massive fan of the character. You can even do a completely different take on said character. I'm just not sure what the point of all this is supposed to be. We've had multiple crossovers in the last few years revolving around alternate/future/clone/anthropomorphic animal versions of Spider-man. "What if Spider-man had a kid with powers?" is not a novel idea. "What if the love of Peter's life was killed by a super-villain?" is also not a novel idea. Fuck, even "What if Movie/TV writer/director wrote a bad Spider-man story?" isn't novel. What the hell are we doing here?
HaemishM
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Reply #504 on: Today at 09:26:39 AM

Like many of the stunts under Quesada's reign at Marvel, I imagine "What we are doing here" is "getting the mainstream entertainment press to report about the comics."

Velorath
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Reply #505 on: Today at 10:59:40 AM

That kind of thing made sense when they had been struggling financially to the point where they were bought by Toy Biz. Not so much now when they're owned by Disney and have by many metrics the most successful movie franchise of all time.
HaemishM
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Reply #506 on: Today at 11:34:29 AM

I don't think the successful movies have translated into comics sales like they might have thought. Any new reader who watches the MCU movies and then goes to the comics is going to be confused as fuck with all the continuity changes between the two. Being able to say "we have a series written by J.J. Abrams" which doesn't really rely on any present Marvel continuity is a selling point the same way Astonishing X-Men was back when Joss Whedon started it. They get a few headlines, a little bump in sales before the rest of the entertainment media goes back to fellating the movies.

Velorath
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Reply #507 on: Today at 12:45:55 PM

I'm sure the movies' success hasn't translated into comics sales, but the point is that they're no longer in a position where they need to worry about that. Also guys like Whedon, Kevin Smith, and JMS all at least had affection for the characters they wrote and comics in general. I get the impression J.J. Abrams doesn't really give a shit beyond getting his son work.
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