Month: June 2008

The Loeb universe

I’m a bit puzzled by the recent works on longtime writer Jeph Loeb. To me, Loeb’s name always gave me pleasant memories of his workings with Tim Sale and even his lesser-known, yet still enjoyable run on the post-Age of Apocalypse X-Force. Before his exclusive signing with Marvel, I was enjoying most of his run on Superman/Batman and his credited episodes of the series Heroes on NBC have been fantastic. Good stuff, I would think.

Since his Marvel return, he’s been hit-and-miss, with more of an emphasis on miss. I strayed away from Onslaught: Reborn not because of him, but because of Rob Liefeld’s art and because it was an anniversary story that should never have been made. I’m sure it was good for what it was…or something like that. My first exposure was his Wolverine storyline “Evolution” which was pretty much abysmal. If you didn’t catch it, check out the X-Axis’ review of it. While Wolverine isn’t one of my pulls, Casey faithfully reads it and shared with me the issues, and I had trouble getting through the whole thing. Blatant contradictions with numerous titles including X-Men and Cable & Deadpool made me shake my head. Never mind the ridiculousness of the whole thing – it was like the editors gave Loeb the go-ahead for anything, then had to go back and correct the details (like showing Feral and Thornn powered when they were victims of M-Day).

Somehow I missed issue #4 of Ultimates 3, but after reading Casey’s copy of the issue, I have decided not only to skip the issue, but to drop Ultimates altogether. I have been reading Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men almost since the beginning of their runs. I followed both chapters of Millar and Hitch’s Ultimates and am somewhat familiar with Ultimate Fantastic Four. The point here is that I’m quite familiar with the long-building continuity of the Ultimate universe. Loeb, however, has taken that and pretty much thrown it to the wind. It seems like he’s decided exactly what he wants to do with which characters and to hell with what’s happened before.

Examples of this in just four issues have been the fight with Venom (who has been missing since his debut in Ultimate Spider-Man and is just now returning to the picture), the unexplained arrivals of Black Panther and Valkyrie (who was a non-powered wannabe in Ultimates 2), the blatant romance between Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, the changing of Captain America to depressive, and the odd characterization of Hawkeye.

To me, the final clincher was the appearance of Pyro in issue #4 as a homicidal member of Magneto’s Brotherhood. That characterization showed me that Loeb did not bother to see what Pyro had done in the title before. He just new that he had appeared, so he got his design and put him in the role he wanted. In actuality, when last we saw Pyro, he was a member of the X-Men and quite amazed to be on the team he was! He had secretly infiltrated the Mutant Liberation Front, but was quite on board with the X-Men. How he went from that to murderous psychopath member of the Brotherhood wasn’t – and likely won’t be – explained. It’s Pyro, and Pyro is a villain. So there you go.

The writing in Ultimates 3 seems to be blatantly egotistical, and what kills me is that the editors seem to be turning a complete blind eye to it! As for me, though, I’m tired of questioning why I’m shilling three bucks a month whenever the book comes out for something I’m not enjoying. For the bigger picture, perhaps? Well, that obviously doesn’t fit here. Loeb’s got his own picture and that’s that.

I say enough.

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Is Titans really that big a franchise?

As far as needless title launches go, I had to give it to DC with Titans – an ongoing with the old-school Titans joining together for no particular reason. Not a lot of setup – just a Titans: East teaser and there you have it!

My problem with this book (and why I decided not to add it to my list) was because the book really doesn’t seem to matter. Nightwing is busy in his own book and in the Batman world. A big part of Flash’s story in JLA has been his lack of time for his family (in Flash) and the JLA, let alone the Titans, yet in Justice League America #20 he rededicated himself to the league. Red Arrow also has a prominent role in the JLA where his story focused on his graduating into Green Arrow’s place on the League – not with the Titans anymore. Donna Troy became a watcher of the Monitors with Kyle Rayner and Ray Palmer at the conclusion of Countdown. Beast Boy rejoined the Doom Patrol during the One Year Later gap and even became leader.

So does all that make Titans a book being put out simply to put a book out? Looks that way to me.

So then I come to the end of this week’s Teen Titans #60 and I see that a certain member of the team’s adventures will be continued in Terror Titans #1! The Terror Titans are the small group of young villains who have plagued the Titans recently (not to be mistaken for the villainous Titans: East from a few arcs ago). Do they really need their own six issue mini? Does the only Titan going over have enough star power to carry the book? Seems the overwhelming Titans editor thinks so. What’s his name here? Ah…a Dan DiDio. Ever heard of him?

This is getting ridiculous. I’m going to be sticking with Teen Titans, thanks. Adult Titans and villain Titans don’t particularly interest me. They’re missing the point here.

On A-List team books

I’m a big fan of team books. I really like the aspect of having an ensemble cast of characters coming together to fight for the good cause. If done well, you can have a group of heroes that normally wouldn’t shine on their own (ever wonder why Rogue and Gambit series keep getting cancelled?) become a big thing as a group.

Of course, the more popular thing to do is to take your already established characters and shoehorn them together. That’s cool – people love seeing their favorite heroes working together. But if you throw too many in, you run into a problem of telling consistent stories without having to stretch the limits of your threat. There’s only so much that can challenge a group made up of several near-invulnerable heroes, after all.

In the Justice League, you have the big three – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – two Green Lanterns and the Flash. Never mind the rest of the team (Black Canary, Black Lightning, Vixen, Red Arrow, Hawkgirl and Red Tornado) – with just those six characters, you have the entire power core of the DC heroes. Who is going to stop them?

Once this realization came to me, I quit complaining about the constant villain team-ups. What else can you do against them?

Avengers has had this problem several times. The original line-up featured three of Marvel’s biggest solo stars (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor) and added Captain America three issues later. Once the series got going, however, the three originals were gone – replaced by side-characters Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. From this point on, Avengers dug its own character niche in the Marvel Universe – certain characters were Avengers – and that was that.

JSA is like that now. JLA seems to be on the fence about it. On the one hand, the book heavily pushes the more unknown characters: Black Canary is the leader, Black Lightning has a substantial role, Vixen has a long-running subplot, Hawkgirl and Red Arrow are bumping uglies. On the other, the book still seems to long for the Grant Morrison days of jam all big characters into the book. Morrison made it work, though, and soon added lesser names like Plastic Man and Steel. JLA has seen two big villain team-ups thus far.

Perhaps it’s because I fondly remember a League featuring two major characters – Batman and Martian Manhunter – and a load of second-stringers and nobodies. Even when the book was changed from comedy back to action by Dan Jurgens just before Doomsday, the League was made up of the same cast of lower talents. Over those 70+ issues, though, certain characters became core Leaguers – even if the DCU proper didn’t think too highly of them. I think that’s what the League could use now. Dip into the vast pool of DC heroes (if any survive the usual Crisis cullings) and get yourself a base of heroes that can come in and out of the scene. Rotate your leader and have them put out a call, with who knows showing up. I would like to see something like that, with the lesser heroes actually having a challenge, rather than seeing what’s going on now.

One more shot at DC, then I’ll go back to X-Men

Spotted this over at Every Day is Like Wednesday which sums up my thoughts on DC’s weekly-book crossover to mega-event shenanigans.

“You might remember that particular creative team from Gotham Underground, the series that tied-in to Salvation Run, which was a tie-in to Countdown, which was a prequel to Final Crisis, although the writer of Final Crisis recently disavowed it as such.”

Exactly.

Marvel shipping schedule set to pound the crap out of reader, pocketbook

Today’s shipping list is a little light for me – DC’s Justice League of America alongside Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men and X-Factor. A pretty calm week and looking at next week, I found I will need the rest up.

DC remains calm – only Teen Titans will be coming out. Marvel, on the other hand, has Fantastic Four, Immortal Iron Fist, Mighty Avengers, New Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimates 3, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine: First Class, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Legacy, and Young Avengers Presents. That’s 11 Marvel books (and I’m still deciding whether I want to get Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers – I’ll probably wait and see if they do something like they did for Civil War).

Perhaps you think I simply had an unlucky week, but look at it like this: both Avengers books are coming out on the same week. One would assume that you would have them coming out two weeks aside from each other so you get an Avengers book every other week, but apparently that is not in the cards.

Also, there are five X-Men books coming out this week (I don’t read Wolverine: Origins). By my count, the whole X-Men line consists of 13 titles (if you include Astonishing X-Men which rarely comes out and New Exiles which really isn’t an X-Men book). Both of the main X-Men titles (Uncanny and Legacy) are coming out on the same day, as are two of the three Wolverine titles. Keep in mind that three are coming out today, and you have eight titles – three short of the consistent titles in the line – are out in two weeks. There’s no reason to bunch up so many titles at once.

I don’t often defend DC, but I’ll give them this: with some exceptions here and there, they get their books out consistently on schedule. Certain titles are first week, second week and so on and they usually remain there month after month. Marvel has more of a “put them out whenever” schedule, so it’s always a crap shoot whether a title you’re looking for shows up on the schedule or not.

But once again I feel the need to move past bitching and defend my point. How would I fix the X-Men scheduling system? Let’s take a look:

There are 13 titles on the X-Men line: Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Legacy, Young X-Men, and X-Factor make up the main storyline titles. X-Force and New Exiles are in their own little worlds which don’t get mentioned too often in the main titles. Wolverine, Wolverine: Origins, and Cable are solo books based on X-Men characters. X-Men: First Class, Wolverine: First Class, and Ultimate X-Men are not in main continuity, and Astonishing X-Men is kind of an addendum title that is the award-winner when it feels like coming out. And in case you were wondering, I do not consider Captain Britain & MI-13 to be an X-Men book. It’s almost a Marvel Knights title.

Considering these books to all be monthly in a four-week standard month, I’d place the four main books in separate weeks, with Uncanny and Legacy two weeks apart from one another. This schedule was followed during Endangered Species and Messiah CompleX and I greatly enjoyed the line’s consistency. So you have the following:

Week 1: Uncanny X-Men
Week 2: Young X-Men
Week 3: X-Men: Legacy
Week 4: X-Factor

Since weeks 2 and 4 are a little lighter, more for the dedicated X-Men reader, I’d toss the spin-off team books there to thicken them up a bit:

Week 1: Uncanny X-Men
Week 2: Young X-Men, New Exiles
Week 3: X-Men: Legacy
Week 4: X-Factor, X-Force

Tossing in the side solo books, I would want to keep the two Wolverine titles separate from one another, as to keep the density of the character down, yet I still run into the problem of putting two out in one week, as Wolverine is also in both Uncanny and X-Force. But alas, such cannot be helped. Cable I toss onto week 3, as I think weeks two and four have enough blood and angst with Young X-Men and X-Force:

Week 1: Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine: Origins
Week 2: Young X-Men, New Exiles
Week 3: X-Men: Legacy, Wolverine, Cable
Week 4: X-Factor, X-Force

Three more titles to go to even out the weeks at three X-Books a piece, we’ll try to balance the titles. X-Men: First Class and Ultimate can go into weeks 2 and 4 to give each week an X-Men team book, and Wolverine: First Class will finish the stack:

Week 1: Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine: Origins, Wolverine: First Class
Week 2: Young X-Men, New Exiles, Ultimate X-Men
Week 3: X-Men: Legacy, Wolverine, Cable
Week 4: X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men: First Class

But I’ve made a mistake. On week 1, I’ve put two Wolverine books. This is an easy fix, as First Class is an out-of-continuity book, I’ll simply switch it with the almost non-X-book, New Exiles for my final shipping pile:

Week 1: Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine: Origins, New Exiles
Week 2: Young X-Men, Ultimate X-Men, Wolverine: First Class
Week 3: X-Men: Legacy, Wolverine, Cable
Week 4: X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men: First Class

So where do you put Astonishing on the event that it actually does come out? I left week 3 as the only week that does not have two team-books for just that purpose, and it is two weeks away from the other main X-Men team book, Uncanny.

So there you have it – a balanced X-Men schedule. On months with a fifth week, you can fill the gap with annuals or the dreaded needless one-shot issues. How would you balance your favorite comic-family schedule?

May’s Sales Estimates

I was going to write another article on DC, and how they added Carlos Pacheco to Final Crisis to assist JG Jones with art chores, and how it has not been a good couple of weeks for DC, but I decided against it. Instead, I am gonna comment on the Diamond sales estimates. Fun.

I like the estimates posted on CBR more so than the one posted on Newsarama. CBR has actual number of units, number of units the last issues sold, percentage change, and weeks late. Before discussing these, it should be noted that these are what Diamond sold to the comic shops. There is no way to tell what was actually bought from the stores, as not everyone uses a point-of-sale inventory system.

It is not surprising that Secret Invasion #2 outsold Final Crisis #1; 200,344 to 159,036. While both of these numbers seem high, neither of them is close to Secret Invasion #1, which sold over 267,000 copies. For comparison, Civil War #1 sold 260,700 copies with #2 only dropping to 253, 900 copies. Infinite Crisis #1 sold 249,265 copies. With the inevitable decrease in sales that most series experience, the lower starting point for Final Crisis does not look good.

Events have been good some of both companies ongoing titles. New and Mighty Avengers maintained an increase in sales with their Secret Invasion tie-ins. Both issues of Batman released in May as the first two parts of the RIP storyline saw a dramatic increase in sales. Justice League also saw an increase with its “Sightings” tag. Invincible Iron Man had a good debut, but issue 2 will bring about a better view of how this book is doing.

Personally, it disturbs me how poorly Nightwing and Robin are selling. Both are in the 30,000 area. Fortunately, there are ongoing titles selling worse, but they are below Supergirl. For comparison, Catwoman, selling 19,000 copies has been canceled. Some titles below that sales mark include: Checkmate, X-men First Class, Shadowpact, Spirit, Marvel Comics Present. Not saying these books are in danger, but it is something to keep an eye on.