On his weblog Kevin Reviews Uncanny X-Men, Kevin O’Leary had an interesting post last month in which he picked the six members of his “ideal X-Men team”. I liked the idea and thought I’d post my own version, albeit with a twist: instead of choosing from all X-Men comics ever published or which I’ve ever read, I just browsed through whatever comics I had currently at hand on my shelf and in my longbox, and from these I selected the characters that I found interesting for some reason or other. Here they are, in order of publication:
- Morph from Scott Lobdell’s and Joe Madureira’s Astonishing X-Men v1, 1995 (“Age of Apocalypse” storyline): no idea why I own a copy of this comic book, which is mediocre at best. But Lobdell and Madureira employ Morph’s shapeshifting abilities for comedic purposes, which makes him the most memorable character here.
- Bishop from David Hine’s and Yanick Paquette’s Civil War: X-Men, 2007: while I find Bishop’s mutant power (“energy absorption and redirection” – Wikipedia) rather boring and himself as a character not very likeable, his backstory – coming from a dystopian future – makes for interesting storytelling material. In Civil War: X-Men, Bishop feels compelled to side with the government and turn against Cyclops and the other X-Men.
- Wolverine from Cullen Bunn’s and Paul Pelletier’s run on Wolverine v4, 2012: while Wolverine certainly isn’t an underexposed character, Bunn and Pelletier showed that his backstory still has some new plot devices in it. Plus, his regenerating abilities can be stunningly visualised, e.g. when half his face is blown off by a shotgun, and he regrows his eye during the same fight scene (in #306).
- Warbird from Marjorie Liu’s and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s run on Astonishing X-Men, 2013: Warbird is a member of the Shi’ar alien race and not a mutated human, but her ‘otherness’ (which Liu frequently emphasised) matches that of the other X-Men misfits nicely.
- Nazi Xavier from Greg Pak’s and Andre Araujo’s X-Treme X-Men v2, 2013: it’s Charles Xavier, the popular telepath. Only he’s a nazi. X-Treme X-Men introduced many alternate versions of well-known characters from parallel worlds, one weirder than the other. Technically Nazi Xavier is a villain, not an X-Man, but Marvel never had much problems with changing a villain into a hero and vice versa. Such a ‘deal with the devil’ would create those tensions that seem to be all-important in any superhero team.
- Magneto from Cullen Bunn’s and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Magneto, 2014: Magneto has already undergone the treatment from villain to X-Man (and back again, probably several times), so it shouldn’t be a problem to have him on the team too. It would be interesting to have Holocaust survivor Magneto (don’t ask me how old he is supposed to be) on the same team as Nazi Xavier, but the reason I want Magneto on my ideal X-Men team is that it’s just so much fun to see him twisting and twirling pieces of metal around.
In November last year, I gave a talk at Comics Forum in Leeds on “Early manga translations in the West: underground cult or mainstream failure?”
That paper is now online at the Comics Forum website: http://comicsforum.org/2014/07/14/early-manga-translations-in-the-west-underground-cult-or-mainstream-failure-by-martin-de-la-iglesia/.
If you always wanted to know what my PhD research is about, this is the place to go.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is still being shown in German cinemas, and by now, probably more than a million people have seen it here. While I found it enjoyable enough, I’m still wondering who these Marvel films are made for. Or, to put it differently: are film makers still concerned about continuity at all, or is it considered nitpicking and party-pooping to point out continuity errors in this postmodern day and age?
Basically, I can think of four ways in which films deal with continuity:
a) the film is a stand-alone story and doesn’t need to adhere to any extra-textual continuity;
b) the film is part of a series of films and conforms to the continuity established by the earlier films;
c) the setting of the film (“world”/”universe”) is adapted from another medium and is consistent with the continuity established there;
d) the entire story of the film is adapted from another medium, and continuity is not an issue as long as the adaptation is faithful.
The problem with films like X-Men: Days of Future Past is that their category would be “e) all of the above”. There’s the continuity of the previous X-Men films and the continuity of countless X-Men comics, and X-Men: DoFP makes references to both and can’t be fully comprehended without ample knowledge of both. However, the two continuities are not quite compatible with each other, and each of them has its own issues, so it comes as no surprise that X-Men: DoFP isn’t free of continuity errors either. A month ago, Rob Bricken published this helpful overview on io9: http://io9.com/8-ways-x-men-movie-continuity-is-still-irretrievably-f-1581678509
Not mentioned there is the conundrum of Pietro/Peter Maximoff and his sister(s), which is explained in Empire magazine (see e.g. here).
All this makes me wonder: if everything we see in a film is potentially subject to later revisions, and ultimately nothing is authoritative, why do filmgoers still care about these stories at all? Many comic book readers, tired of convoluted continuities and endless retconning, have turned their backs on this kind of storytelling years ago. How long will it take cinema audiences to realise that all these superhero “cinematic universes” make little sense?
It wasn’t until about a year ago that the relevance of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga masterpiece Akira for my PhD thesis dawned on me. At first I had thought I’d focus on earlier titles. When I realised I should concentrate my research on Akira instead, I started buying used copies of volumes from the first English-language edition (Epic Comics 1988-1995).
In contrast to the current six-volume edition, the Epic edition consists of 38 issues. Since last week, with the arrival of #25 in my mailbox, my collection is now complete.
My sources were Ebay (.de), Amazon (.com) Marketplace, and the online comic shop Sammlerecke (.de). Overall, I ordered my Akira copies from 7 or 8 different sellers. The downside of this approach, as opposed to buying all 38 issues as a set from one seller, was that the shipping costs (particularly from the US to Germany) quickly added up and turned out to be higher than the price for the actual comics. Plus, it takes a long time to find all issues and then to have them shipped.
The advantage of splitting the purchases is that you can select the best offers for each issue (or batch of issues), so that the average cost per issue (not including shipping) is very low. After some time I was even able to find the final issue at a reasonable price. For some reason, #38 seems to be rarer than the others and is otherwise offered only for three-figure sums. The aforementioned #25 turned out to be the most expensive issue instead, because it was the last one I was still lacking and thus it couldn’t be shipped together with other items from the same seller, so I ended up paying $5 for the comic itself and $15 for postage.
Earlier this week I looked at three comic book series from The New 52, and found that the first issue of each wasn’t very newbie-friendly, contrary to what DC had advertised. Let’s analyse three more titles today and assess their jumping-on adequacy.
Authors: J. H. Williams III (writer/artist), W. Haden Blackman (writer), Dave Stewart (colourist)
Website: still no series information at DC.
A lot of people seem to like this series, or more precisely, J. H. Williams’s art. I for one found it too sexploitative even by mainstream superhero comics standards, and consequently didn’t bother to read Batwoman past this first issue. The story starts with a supernatural crime case which both Batwoman and the Gotham City Police Department try to solve. Intercut are some scenes of Batwoman training her sidekick, and of a mysterious organisation that is probably more prominently featured in later issues. This setup is straightforward enough to grasp the basics of this setting, but then again there are many references to previous events, such as the double page on which Batwoman talks to her father about the past, with a background filled with scenes that are inscrutable for the new reader.
Swamp Thing #1
Authors: Scott Snyder (writer), Yanick Paquette (artist), Nathan Fairbairn (colourist)
As I’ve written in my previous reviews of this series, Scott Snyder doesn’t make it clear right away whether or not protagonist Alec Holland really is the Swamp Thing. In his dialogue with Superman, Holland says that he once was Swamp Thing but has renounced this superhero identity. At the end of this issue, Holland and the Swamp Thing (or ‘a’ Swamp Thing) are in fact shown as two distinct figures talking to each other.
Again, past events are referenced heavily in this book, but this time, it feels more like a deliberate, clever element of ambiguity, rather than as if you’re missing out on something if you haven’t read all previous Swamp Thing comics. For those readers already familiar with Swamp Thing, there are several easter eggs to be discovered in the drawings in the form of fictitious company names on labels which pay tribute to the original Swamp Thing creators.
Justice League Dark #1
Authors: Peter Milligan (writer), Mikel Janin (artist), Ulises Arreola (colourist)
I’ve already written about the art of this series in a previous post, but let’s focus on the story here: as in some of the other comics, mysterious supernatural things happen, and superheroes investigate. The Justice League fails, though, and the clairvoyant Madame Xanadu assembles a team that is more apt to deal with mystical threats – the eponymous Justice League Dark (although that name isn’t used here). Thus, this first issue is a typical team origin story. Each member is introduced briefly and we learn about their respective powers, except for Deadman, who is only featured on two panels for the time being. This book requires some basic knowledge of the Justice League, e.g. Zatanna’s affiliation. More importantly, the Justice League members refer to the villain, the Enchantress, as a familiar figure, although new readers probably won’t have heard of her.
To sum up, hardly any of the six New 52 number ones I’ve read are particularly good jumping-on points. This is mainly due to the editorial decision to maintain the status quo: if you have all these characters and their backstories and their established settings and back-up casts, why not continue to use them? Any major change would have angered the old readers, and DC didn’t want to risk that. That’s why their comics are still not attractive for new readers.
Apparently, DC’s business strategy is to hold on to the old readers and make them buy as many comics as possible, which is why they let “crossover mania” break out in each New 52 title. Before too long, the continuity of the DC universe will be so messed up again that the next half-hearted “reboot” will be necessary to unravel it. Eventually, the target audience won’t take note anymore.
In September 2011 – two years and eight months ago – DC started this New 52 thing. So it’s hardly “new” anymore, but they still put “The New 52″ on their comic book covers. Maybe this time is as good as any to ask: was it all worth it?
First of all, what is The New 52? Some people call it a relaunch, or a reboot. Essentially, though, it was a renumbering: all of DC’s monthly comic book series were set to “#1″ in September 2011. Therefore, Action Comics #904 from August 2011 is followed by Action Comics #1 in September instead of #905. Likewise, there is no Detective Comics #882, and so on. This seems like a risky idea, but commercially, it worked wonders for DC, at least in the beginning. By now, it looks to me as if the sales boost effect has waned, judging by the estimates published on The Beat, for instance (see e.g. this column by Marc-Oliver Frisch on DC’s July 2013 sales).
Back in 2011, the goal behind this move seems to have been to make people start reading DC comics who had not been reading them before, advertising the new “first” issues as good “jumping-on points”. The problem with these #1 issues was, they were not actually “relaunching” or “rebooting” their respective series, at least not in my understanding of these terms. A proper relaunch or reboot would have been to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch by introducing the characters and their settings again, without relying on knowledge that readers have acquired through other, previous material. Although the creative teams of each series changed and new story arcs began, it was never clear how much the new series built on the old continuity, or to what extent that backstory would be retconned. Later, DC tried to alleviate this problem and fill in the blanks through events like “Zero Month” (or the current “Secret Origins”). At any rate, I don’t think DC did a good job at catering to new readers (probably in order not to lose their old core readership), as I will show in this two-part blog post using the example of six number ones from The New 52. Here are the first three, in no particular order:
The Flash #1
Authors: Francis Manapul (writer/artist), Brian Buccellato (writer/colourist)
Website: the links given on the DC website are all broken.
I picked up the first Flash trade paperback mainly because of Marc-Oliver Frisch’s glowing review of #1, and because I wanted to see how this unusual creative team setup (writer plus writer/artist) worked out. The merits of this comic aside, it’s not a particularly good jumping-on point for readers unfamiliar with its eponymous protagonist. The title page on p. 4-5 briefly tells his origin story:
Struck by a bolt of lightning and doused in chemicals, Central City police scientist Barry Allen was transformed into the fastest man alive. Tapping into the energy field called the Speed Force, he applies a tenacious sense of justice to protect and serve the world as The Flash.
Seriously? Lightning? Chemicals? “The energy field called the Speed Force”? We’re in the 21st century now, but this reads like some Golden Age origin story full of magical thinking. And it doesn’t explain where Barry got his ring from, from which his costume somehow emerges and wraps around him. The Flash’s basic superpower – speed – is easy enough to understand, but on p. 8, he uses two secondary powers that aren’t as easy to grasp: levitating things by producing vortices from his hands, and vibrating through solid objects. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato surely didn’t make these things up, but that is of no help to the new reader.
For readers who are somewhat but not overly familiar with The Flash, it may be confusing that there’s this character called Iris West, hinting at the possibility that Wally West, another Flash, might still be introduced later in the story to complicate things further. Another weak point of this story is the characterisation of Barry, or lack thereof. In the next few issues, the supporting character Manuel seems more fleshed-out than Barry.
Authors: Scott Snyder (writer), Greg Capullo (penciller), Jonathan Glapion (inker), FCO (colourist)
From its launch up to now, Batman was always one of the best-selling comics book series on the American direct market, regularly outselling all other series except for new launches, crossover events or other special issues. (On the other hand, it is the only series with estimated monthly sales consistently over 100,000 copies, which says a lot about the current state of the industry.) It probably couldn’t have enjoyed that success on the basis of its title alone, so I eventually read the first TPB and wasn’t disappointed: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo did craft a gripping story.
It is also a story that is accessible to new readers, although it may help to know who e.g. the Joker is. There are only two scenes that might be problematic for the newbie: one is Batman fighting a multitude of villains at Arkham Asylum at the beginning of the comic, some of which are quite obscure and “wasted” as extras in a melee. The other is the brief introduction of the “Bat-Family”: Dick Grayson a.k.a. Nightwing, Tim Drake a.k.a. Red Robin, and Damian Wayne a.k.a. Robin. Only one of the three is relevant to the story, so they’re only introduced here for (intra-New-52) continuity’s sake.
Animal Man #1
Authors: Jeff Lemire (writer), Travel Foreman (penciller), Lovern Kindzierski (colourist)
Animal Man is another comic that I only bought in collected form, probably around the time of the crossover with Swamp Thing. Jeff Lemire is, beside the aforementioned Scott Snyder, the other new “superstar” writer to emerge from The New 52. That status, however, wasn’t enough to prevent the cancellation of Animal Man with #29 two months ago.
Initially, Animal Man’s superpower was to temporarily gain one single ability of one single nearby animal, e.g. strength from an elephant, or flight from a bird. A goofy but fun concept. Later (but still before The New 52), he gained the ability to take on powers from all living beings, not only those nearby. That made him one of the most boring superheroes ever, as he can now at any time gain superstrength and flight etc., like so many other superheroes.
In Animal Man #1, this leads to clumsy storytelling by way of internal monologue in captions, such as “I just take on the weight of a bumblebee”, or “I reach out and grab the napping ability of a cat” (p. 14). Anyway, unfortunately for new readers, the story in this issue isn’t so much about Animal Man and his powers, but rather the beginning of an arc that puts Animal Man’s daughter Maxine in the foreground as the “avatar of the Red”. This new metaphysical concept of the three struggling primordial forces, the Red, the Green and the Rot, is relatively well explained in the following issues, but it overshadows Animal Man as a character.
Another potential problem with this comic for old and new readers alike is Travel Foreman’s art, which is certainly distinctive with its expressive lines and scarce but heavy cross hatching. I for one never got used to it. Readers already familiar with Animal Man will notice how similar the setting is to that of Grant Morrison’s acclaimed run from the late 1980s, with a focus on Animal Man’s domestic life with his wife and two children. This raises the question, though, how these runs are interconnected, or why all the familiar characters are still the same age as back in the 80s, even though the story is clearly set in the present day.
For two other interesting takes on The New 52 and its convoluted continuity, see Vaneta Rogers’s blogpost “The NEW 52 Two Years Later: The Reboot’s Biggest Surprises” at Newsarama and Paul C’s “The New 52 Continuity: It ain’t so bad!” at Last of the Famous International Fanboys.
Some weeks ago, manga publisher Tokyopop Germany launched a website, <http://iloveshojo.tokyopop.de>, as part of a promotional campaign for their shōjo manga titles. Readers can ask questions by using a form on this site, which are then answered publicly by Tokyopop staff. Without counting them, I guess the topics most frequently brought up by readers are:
- recommendations which new manga Tokyopop should publish next (which the fans, I believe, have discovered via illegal scanlations);
- questions around promotional items, such as “ShoCo Cards” (“Shojo Collectors Cards”);
- publication of drawings, a.k.a. fan art.
Many postings contain an awful lot of typos, which makes me believe that these are real readers’ writings and there is not much editing going on. I guess the published posts are carefully filtered by the Tokyopop editors, though.
Occasionally, some really interesting information can be found amidst all this fannish chatter. For instance, about a week ago, there was this question:
My translation: “I keep hearing you’re unable to publish works by Kōdansha, why is that?” – “The publisher Kōdansha told us some time ago that they had decided to let the contracts for all current series expire, and that they won’t license any new series to us. We weren’t given any reasons for this decision. We were only told that the decision was unrelated to the previous collaboration between Kōdansha and Tokyopop Germany. Therefore we won’t publish any new Kōdansha titles for the time being. If the situation changes, we’ll inform you immediately!”
A few days later, a similar question was posted:
My translation: “Which Japanese publishers collaborate with you?” – “Basically all the major ones – except for Kōdansha and Square Enix… Of course there are still many smaller ones from which we haven’t requested any titles yet – but this is always worth a try.”
In other words, some Japanese publishers license their manga to some Western publishers and some don’t. This means that the selection of manga that get translated into European languages often appears, for all intents and purposes, to be random. For if the business decisions of Japanese publishers are apparently inscrutable even to their Western partners, how are we researchers supposed to comprehend them?