Category: Comics

The King's Ransom

So, another month, another piece of news on Jack Kirby's heirs seeking termination of copyright transfer from Marvel. And another thread made up of the exact same absurd comments.

For the sake of my time and blood pressure, I've decided to just copy down all the very very stupid comments people keep making, followed by explanations of why they are very very stupid, and just preemptively copy-paste it into the comments thread of every article I see on the subject from now on.

I'll probably come back and revise this post here and there, so if it pops up new in your RSS feed every now and again, well, consider it a Living Document.

(Thanks to Nat Gertler for feedback and corrections.)

Revision notes:

  • 2018-07-12: Updated a Robot 6 link to the Wayback Machine version, as the comments are no longer available on the live site
  • 2011-08-02: Updated to comment on the outcome of Marvel v Kirby
  • 2012-05-23: Updated to discuss the Avengers movie, correct some bits where I conflated modern work-for-hire law with pre-1976 work-for-hire law, and include some brand new clichés I'm sick of seeing
  • 2014-06-24: Rephrased a remark about the now-overturned Superman ruling; updated the instance-and-expense section with some information on the current challenge to the lower court's ruling; updated some dates and links.
  • 2014-09-26: Updated to reflect the news that the case has been settled and will not be taken to the Supreme Court.
  • 2014-10-01: Added a link to a Kurt Busiek post on CBR.
  • 2014-10-10: Added a few more lines about the settlement, and one new numbered comment/response since I've been seeing a lot of the "The Kirbys may not have sued bu they provoked a suit" argument.

Thad Boyd's Preemptive Response to Comments We Are Definitely Going to See in This Thread

  1. "Kirby's heirs didn't do the work, Kirby himself did! Therefore, they don't deserve any money for it!"

    Yes, that money should go to the people who actually did the work. Like Disney. Who could forget Bob Iger's classic run on Fantastic Four?

    Snark aside, there's a valid point to the argument that Kirby's heirs shouldn't get the rights. I personally believe that copyright law lasts far too long and these characters shouldn't belong to Kirby's heirs OR Disney/Marvel at this point, and should be in the public domain. But until that day comes, can we at least acknowledge that Bob Iger didn't contribute any more to the development of these characters than Kirby's heirs did? And that, if Kirby had made more money in his lifetime, he would have left it to his children?

  2. "The Kirbys shouldn't have sued Marvel!"

    You've got it backwards. MARVEL sued the KIRBYS; only then did the Kirbys countersue.

    The Kirbys simply filed a request for termination of copyright transfer; it was MARVEL who responded with a lawsuit.

  3. "The Kirbys may not have sued Marvel, but they knew that filing for termination would RESULT in a lawsuit. The suit is the Kirbys' fault, regardless of who filed it."

    While it is true that the Kirbys would have known that Marvel would probably choose to sue them, it was still Marvel's choice. Marvel didn't have to sue; it could have chosen to negotiate outside the court system.

    As it eventually did, with the final settlement in 2014. Marvel CHOSE years of litigation before agreeing to a settlement.

  4. "Kirby didn't do all the work himself! Don Heck and Larry Lieber co-created Iron Man, Steve Ditko gave him red and gold armor, Joe Simon co-created Captain America, Ang Lee's Hulk is based on Peter David's run, the movie version of Magneto is way more like Claremont's version than Lee and Kirby's, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch made Nick Fury look like Samuel L Jackson, and on and on!"

    I completely agree -- all of those people should receive a share of the profits from the films based on their work, too.

    What I don't understand is taking that line of reasoning to the conclusion that NONE of them should receive anything.

  5. "Marvel can't AFFORD to pay everyone involved in creating the characters and stories adapted in its movies."

    Of course it can. Avengers grossed over a billion dollars.

    It is especially clear, following the settlement, that Marvel can afford to make a deal with the Kirbys -- because it has.

  6. "Isn't it convenient how Kirby's heirs waited until there were successful film franchises based on his work before they asked for the rights back? If it's so important to them, why didn't they do this years ago?"

    Because they couldn't. Copyright transfers can't be terminated until 56 years after the property's creation.

  7. "The Kirby kids should just get jobs!"

    The youngest of the Kirby "kids" was born in 1960. Do you really think they've all just been sitting around, unemployed, for the past several decades, waiting for the moment when they could try and get Dad's copyrights back?

  8. "It was work for hire, so Kirby never had any claim to the rights."

    Yes, that's what the judge ruled on July 28, 2011.

    But consider this: There was no work-for-hire contract. Jack Kirby was a freelancer. There is no evidence that he signed ANY contract with Marvel prior to 1972.

  9. "Kirby was an employee of Marvel, so he never had any claim to the rights."

    No, he wasn't. There was no employment contract. Jack Kirby was a freelancer. There is no evidence that he signed ANY contract with Marvel prior to 1972.

  10. "But he KNEW it was work for hire, because that's just how things were DONE in those days."

    The law does not recognize "just how things were done". What it DOES recognize in determining whether a pre-1978 work was made for-hire is the instance-and-expense test -- that is, did the creator make the work on his own initiative ("on spec") and then sell it, or did he create it at the publisher's request, to the publisher's specifications, and get paid a set rate by the publisher regardless of whether or not the work was published?

    The question of whether Marvel paid Kirby for art it didn't use is key. And the judge's ruling was based on Stan Lee's deposition.

    Other people who did freelance work for Marvel, including Stan's brother, Larry Lieber, said that freelancers were not paid for unused pages. Ultimately, the judge relied primarily on Stan Lee's deposition to support the claim that Kirby was paid for unused pages.

    Marvel's key documents were agreements Kirby signed in 1972 and 1986 claiming his previous work had been done on a for-hire basis. Kirby's agreement, in writing, that this was the case is legally damning, but still not hard evidence that the works actually WERE for-hire; Kirby signed these documents under duress, and the 1986 one was famously a condition for Marvel returning his original art.

    It bears noting that work-for-hire agreements cannot be made retroactively; if Kirby's 1963 work was not for-hire, he couldn't MAKE it for-hire in 1972. Furthermore, the 1972 document itself is contradictory -- it asks Kirby to assign all his copyrights to Marvel, and then suggests he never had any.

    The Kirby heirs attempted to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court; they submitted an amicus brief challenging the instance-and-expense test and its application in the lower court's ruling. Bruce Lehman, former director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, filed an amicus brief arguing that the instance-and-expense test violates Supreme Court precedent. And, ultimately, Marvel chose to settle, just days before the Supreme Court would have decided whether or not to take the case. This suggests that, at minimum, Marvel believed there was a CHANCE that the Kirbys might prevail, and was unwilling to risk that outcome.

  11. "This will destroy Marvel Comics and all my beloved characters!"

    Most of Kirby's characters were co-created with Stan Lee. Stan has already agreed not to seek termination of copyright transfer (presumably because Marvel gave him a much, much better deal than Kirby), so that means Marvel will keep a 50% stake in them no matter what. The Kirbys will not be given editorial control and will not have veto power over Marvel's decisions; all they get is royalty payments -- which, incidentally, Jack never got from Marvel.

    This was exactly how the Superman rights operated between 2008 (when Jerry Siegel's heirs were awarded 50% of the rights) and 2012 (when that ruling was overturned): DC continued to publish Superman comics, they just had to compensate the Siegels.

    Kirby's lack of fair compensation during his lifetime is relevant here: stuff like this doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's too late for Jack or Jerry to get their due, but these legal battles have an impact on still-living creators -- chiefly, publishers will give better deals to their talent in order to keep them happy and avoid future lawsuits. Every time a writer or artist gets a royalty check from Marvel or DC, he has guys like Siegel and Kirby -- and their heirs -- to thank for fighting that fight.

  12. "I work hard at my job, and I don't expect an ownership stake in my work."

    Unless you were doing freelance work in the comics industry prior to 1978, your job is not analogous to Jack Kirby's job, your agreement with the company you work for is not the same as Jack's agreement with the company he worked for, and your heirs' claim to the work you do is not equivalent to Jack's heirs' claim to the work he did.

  13. "So if I built a house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  14. "So if I bought a house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  15. "So if I sold my house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  16. "So if I filed for a patent --"

    Getting closer, but copyrights are not patents, either.

  17. "Marvel lived up to its end of the bargain and doesn't owe Jack anything."

    Even assuming this is true (and I think the King would have something to say about that if he were still with us), you could just as easily frame this as "Kirby lived up to his end of the bargain and his heirs don't owe Marvel anything." Marvel got sole ownership of the copyrights for 56 years, which is exactly what Jack agreed to. That agreement is about to expire. What you're suggesting is that Marvel should automatically get to keep the copyrights for 29 more years than Kirby ever agreed to, in exchange for nothing.

  18. "This is an insult to Jack's memory! He would have wanted all the money to go to Marvel, not his family!"

    Have you ever noticed how most people on the Internet would rather crank out an ill-informed, knee-jerk response than spend the same amount of time using Google to find out whether they're actually right or not?

    Leaving aside the question of how many people would REALLY rather see the profits from their work go to the company they work for than their children, Kirby's relationship with Marvel is a matter of public record, and it wasn't a positive one. He did not feel that he received either the compensation or the credit that he deserved.

  19. "If it was so bad, why did he keep working there?"

    He actually quit, on several occasions, due to disputes with the company: once in the 1940's, again in the 1960's, and finally for good in the 1970's.

  20. "If it was so bad, why did he keep coming back?"

    He came back in the 1950's because the market was crashing and many of the other publishers were going out of business. He came back in the 1970's because he had been offered a better deal than he'd had before -- that was the point at which he sold his rights, though it bears repeating that this was prior to 1978 and the sale would have expired at 56 years from the date of each character's creation.

  21. "Jack Kirby didn't create anything; all he did was design costumes for characters Stan Lee came up with."

    Have you ever noticed how most people on the Internet would rather crank out an ill-informed, knee-jerk response than spend the same amount of time using Google to find out whether they're actually right or not?

    Even if all Kirby had ever done was design the look of characters, that would be sufficient for an ownership stake. But he did considerably more than that.

    Writing at Marvel was a collaborative process. The "Marvel Method" was that Stan would float a plot outline, the artist would draw the pages, and then Stan would fill in the dialogue. Sometimes Stan's outline was detailed, sometimes it was rough, and sometimes there was no outline at all and he wouldn't know what was in the comic until he saw the art. In those cases he'd just write the dialogue -- and even then, he would often use the artist's dialogue suggestions.

    Artists at Marvel had an active role in developing characters and stories. Kirby, Ditko, and others felt that they were not given the credit they were due, and their contributions were underplayed. The fact that you didn't know how much Kirby did and believed all the heavy lifting was done by Lee would seem to prove that point.

  22. "What about Spider-Man? Kirby didn't create him!"

    Kirby worked on an early version of Spider-Man that bore little resemblance to Ditko's final version. I would tend to agree that his claim to Spider-Man is tenuous, but the court may decide that his heirs are entitled to some share in the copyright -- probably not the 50% they'd expect for the Fantastic Four, but some smaller portion.

    I've seen some commenters speculate that the Kirbys never expected to win the Spider-Man rights but asked for them as a tactical maneuver -- in a legal dispute, it's good practice to ask for more than you want, wait for a counter-offer, and negotiate from there. This seems plausible, but Kirby DID claim that he had co-created Spider-Man.

  23. "Marvel took all the risk; Marvel should get all the reward!"

    I see this one all the time, and it's rather baffling. Are you arguing against the very CONCEPT of royalties? Try running that one by most comic book writers or artists today and see how far you get. And that's without getting into other creative industries like books, music, film, and television.

    Aside from that, the notion that Marvel took all the risk relies on the assumption that Kirby was paid whether his work was published or not. Again, while the courts have upheld this claim, it is widely disputed.

  24. "This is unethical!"

    Ethics are personal and subjective. I think it's unethical for a company to pocket billions of dollars on the back of a man it never paid more than a modest page rate, 20 years after his death. You, presumably, believe it's unethical for a dead artist's next-of-kin to try to turn a profit from characters he willingly sold off 40 years ago. We can agree to disagree on the ethics of the situation.

    The law, on the other hand, is much less ambiguous. When Jack Kirby sold his rights in 1972, he did so under a copyright law that stated they would go into the public domain starting in 2014. When Congress changed that law in 1976 (effective in 1978), it changed the terms of the agreements Jack and others had signed. As such, the new law included an escape clause for anyone who had sold his copyright under the old law: he -- or, in the very likely event that he didn't live long enough, his statutory heirs -- could terminate the transfer when the original expiration date came up.

    Whether you think the law is ethical or not, it's the law, and it's not being disputed in this case. If Kirby's works were not for-hire, then he owned a portion of their copyrights, and his heirs are legally entitled to reclaim that portion.

    The size of the portion, and that "if", are the only legal points in question here. Did Kirby sign any work-for-hire contracts? His heirs contend that he didn't, and the court agrees that there is no evidence that he did. Marvel's work-for-hire case is based partially on documents that Kirby signed years after the fact, and partially on Stan Lee's widely-disputed contention that Kirby never worked on spec.

    If this exact same set of circumstances were to occur today -- a freelancer were to create a work without a prior written agreement acknowledging it as work-for-hire -- then the freelancer, not the publisher, would own the rights.

    And if the Kirby heirs could actually produce hard evidence that Jack worked on spec and submitted ideas, on his own initiative, that Marvel never used and that he was not paid for, then that would prove that at least some of the work he did was not on a for-hire basis.

    I can't help thinking that, if any such evidence exists, it was somewhere in the piles of original art that Marvel agreed to return to him and which someone then left unattended next to an elevator.

I grant permission for anybody to reuse this post, in whole or in part, so long as they grant attribution. And don't go nuts with that "or in part" part; no selectively excerpting partial sentences to make it seem like I meant the opposite of what I did.

And, for further reading, check out the following links, which have much more thorough rundowns of what copyright law says, why it says it, and how it specifically applies in the Kirby case:

Form and Function

A few weeks back, I rented Hellboy: Sword of Storms. It was a neat little movie, and adhered pretty well to the the comics' folklore vibe. The highlight was a sequence adapting Heads.

And it occurred to me, you know, the best Hellboy stories are 8-page adaptations of folk tales, in which Hellboy himself plays only a minor role. Similarly, wouldn't it be great to see some 10-minute Hellboy animated shorts?

It's a real pity that both 8-page comic stories and 10-minute animated shorts have fallen by the wayside. DC, at least, seems interested in bringing them back: they've been doing 8-page "secondary features" in some of their popular titles, and next week's animated Crisis on Two Earths will also include a 10-minute Spectre short. Which is the perfect length for a Spectre story.

And of course all this has me thinking, Why 22 pages? Why 22 minutes? Why 6-issue arcs? Stories should take all the time they need; no more and no less.

Which isn't to say that rigid parameters can't foster creativity. The BioWare Writing Contest I participated in a few years back had some very tight guidelines -- only so many characters, only one location allowed, and that location has to be a pretty tiny square. But in a way, that stimulated creativity. Sometimes, you need parameters.

Douglas Adams is a favorite example. His best Hitchhiker's Guide work was written for radio, with a rigid three-act structure and length requirement for each episode, with the requisite pacing those things entail. Those episodes were adapted as the first two books of the Trilogy. The third, Life, the Universe and Everything, was adapted from an unused Doctor Who pitch, so it was conceived around a predefined structure as well. The last two books, where Adams took a more freestyle approach, tended to flail a bit; they were adapted by Dirk Maggs for radio a few years back and, for my money, worked much better with his judicious editing.

(The awesomeness of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul does not fit my narrative as, to the best of my knowledge, it wasn't adapted from a radio or TV format. The first Dirk book was, though.)

There are plenty of writers who could benefit from tighter restrictions. Will Eisner put as much plot in a 7-page Spirit story as Brian Michael Bendis does in a 132-page Avengers arc. Sometimes I like longer, decompressed stories that spend more time on the scenery and the atmosphere. But there should still be a place for those weird little Hellboy stories.

I recently read Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall. Its pacing and form were noticeably different from the typical Fables books, because of its format: it was written as a graphic novel, rather than simply collecting 6 issues of a serial comic.

(A tangent on nomenclature: I absolutely despise the term graphic novel as it is commonly used, ie as a synonym for "comic book" used by people who think they're too cool for Spider-Man. However, it is a useful term when used in its original sense, ie a comic written in long form instead of being serialized in stapled, 22-page, monthly increments.)

Of course, 1001 Nights isn't a graphic novel so much as a graphic short story collection -- far from being a longform Fables story that takes its time, it's a series of stories which are shorter and tighter than a typical issue of Fables. So actually, it's more along the lines of those 8-page Hellboy stories I've been yammering about.

More in the "paced like a novel" vein would be DC's upcoming Earth One books. While it is obvious that these stories need to be published, as nobody has retold Superman's origin story in over three weeks, it's going to be interesting seeing them told with a little more breathing room, without the overwhelming, breakneck pace of Superman: Secret Origin.

I kid, but you know, the nice thing about constantly retelling Superman's origin is that now the Siegel heirs get a cut.

At any rate, once the rehashes are done, it would be quite nice to see DC tell some new stories with these characters in this format -- stories as long or as short as they need to be, at whatever pace suits the piece, without having to speed toward a cliffhanger every 22 pages.

V for Vendetta is actually a decent example -- yes, it was serialized, but its chapters don't fit into a consistent, forced length or pace. And while some of the chapters were climactic action sequences of V stabbing people a lot, others had him simply soliloquizing about anarchy.

(And funnily enough, the guy writing Earth One: Superman is J Michael Straczynski, the same guy whose The Brave and the Bold is currently the best 22-page superhero book that actually tells 22-page stories -- but whose run on Thor was decompressed, organic, and even meandering. Which is not a criticism, as I loved his Thor; it's just a statement that the man can write very well in different formats.)

If the world is a just and beautiful place, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a template for the future of television. It manages the rather neat trick of adhering to a rigid structure that also just happens to be noticeably different from the traditional structure of a TV show: three 13-minute acts, each itself featuring a beginning, a middle, an end, and four songs. It's similar to, but distinct from, the standard three-act structure and 44-minute length of an American TV show.

Even The Daily Show -- God, not a week goes by anymore but one of the interviews goes over. Which is swell, but the way this is handled online is completely boneheaded: if you go to Full Episodes on thedailyshow.com, or view an episode on Hulu, you get the broadcast episode, which shows the truncated interview, followed by an admonition to check out the website, followed by Moment of Zen and credits. I can see this as an unfortunate requirement for broadcast, but guys, Internet videos can be more than 22 minutes. Why in the hell do I have to click through to a different page on the site (or, if I'm watching from Hulu, a different site entirely) to watch the rest of the interview? It's viewer-unfriendly, especially if you use your PC as a media center hooked up to your TV. Cut the full interview into the damn episode. Add an extra commercial in the middle if you have to. (It would be swell if you didn't show the exact same commercial at every single break, but that's a separate presumably-silly-and-useless "rant".)

At least they've wised up a little and started showing just the first part of the interview in the broadcast episode and then showing the rest in the "Full Interview" link on the website. It used to be they'd show a chopped-up version of the interview in the broadcast episode, meaning that instead of the Full Interview link picking up where the show left off, it had five minutes' worth of the same content spread out across it.

You know, it seems like the youngest of the major media is also the one with the least rigid requirements for length. Video games can be anything from a three-second WarioWare microgame to a persistent world that players sink years into. People may grouse a bit that Portal or Arkham Asylum is too short, but it doesn't prevent them from being highly-regarded, bestselling titles.

Which is, of course, not to say that longer games don't have to function under tight restrictions. They're often very high-budget affairs with a hell of a lot of people involved (as Dragon Age tries to forcibly remind you with its absurdly slow credits crawl) -- programmers, writers, artists, and so on. The Mass Effect games have voiced player dialogue and let the player choose Shepard's sex, which means every single one of those lines has to be recorded twice. (And frankly that doesn't seem like enough variety -- I have a Samuel L Jackson lookalike who says "aboot".)

And those restrictions are probably why every dialogue choice in ME is broken up into a predictable paragon/neutral/renegade choice. That kind of very-unsubtle delineation is exactly the sort of thing western RPG developers have been trying to get out of (as in both The Witcher and Dragon Age), but in the context of ME it works quite well -- I've even tried my hand at writing in a three-choices, no-hubs dialogue style and it works very organically. (For the ludicrous amount of dialogue in Dragon Age, there were places I could see the seams showing -- spots where I'd have three dialogue options and, as soon as the NPC spoke, knew that all three led to that exact same response. But that's probably a lot harder to notice if you've never written a dialogue tree yourself, and it's certainly an artform in and of itself, giving a response that works equally well for three different questions. I can only think of one occasion in the dozens of hours of Dragon Age where a writer screwed up and had a question hub that began with an NPC answering a specific question in a way that didn't make any sense if the dialogue looped back.)

And of course it's the medium that allows this kind of longform storytelling. Game length is no longer restricted by the arcade environment. Which is, of course, not to say that short-play games don't get made anymore -- Street Fighter 4 is a high-budget, "hardcore gamer" example, but Nintendo's entire business is built around games a casual player can pick up and play for ten minutes at a time. Ditto every Flash game on the Web, and most games on the iPhone.

And, indeed, Internet delivery is going to liberate other media from their restrictions. Eventually, we're bound to see shows like The Daily Show just run more than 22 minutes if they have to, and, God willing, we'll see more offbeat stuff like Dr. Horrible. The Web's given us comics as diverse as Achewood, Dr. McNinja, Templar, Arizona, and FreakAngels, and cartoons from Adventure Time to Homestar Runner to Charlie the Unicorn to Gotham Girls to the complete version of Turtles Forever. It's also allowed MST3K to continue in the form of the downloadable RiffTrax and the direct-order Cinematic Titanic.

Variety is the spice of life. I love comics -- and yeah, that includes mainstream superhero comics. But I'm sick of all of them having the exact same structure. Fortunately, I think we're on the edge of an age of experimentation.

Or another damn market crash. It is an odd-numbered decade now, after all.

Pointless Nostalgia on an Aribtrary Date

Yeah, okay, so it's been awhile. It's been a busy year. Looks like I missed this site's tenth anniversary by a few weeks, but it was December 9, apparently.

2009. 2009, 2009, 2009. You know, the last two years were straight-up law-of-averages affairs, though in different ways. '08 was pretty mediocre all around; no real highs and no real lows. '09...well, if '08 was a flatline, '09 was a sine wave. It was like the "That's good! That's bad." bit on Simpsons. Alternating highs and lows. The best part of '09 was meeting a very nice girl and finding myself, for the first time in my adult life, in an actual relationship. The worst was losing my uncle. And there were peaks and troughs aplenty in-between.

In other nostalgia-y not-quite-news, I've gone and started another damn KateStory -- I didn't miss that anniversary. The sucker's 15 years old now. I can't believe it's already been 5 years since the 10th anniversary.

I reread all 17 previous installments in preparation. In reverse order. And you know, I learned some things.

  • Brent was right about pretty much everything. Books I-III should probably all be considered one book, VI shouldn't be in there at all, comedy is more important than strict adherence to whether or not I have replaced my watch battery, and Final Fantasy VII is not nearly as good as I thought it was when I was 15. (Chrono Trigger, on the other hand...)
  • Speaking of which, IX isn't nearly as horrifying on a reread as it was a year ago when I had to go through and excise all (well, most of) the adolescent bickering. It's actually better than X. X just fucking drags.
  • Going through the old books looking for "best lines" to reuse in the first chapter of XVIII, most of them were written by Brent. I had a pretty good number of runners-up, but there really weren't any with my name on them where I went, "Yes. That is the best line in this book." Though I threw a couple of mine in anyway for the sake of balance. (Of course, I also focused on lines that would work with the phrase "It was [year], and" prepended to them.)
  • I kinda miss the old days when chapters would cut off in mid-sentence. I should try doing more of those.
  • I've named every single book except KateStory Gaiden, which was McDohl's title. Some of them are well-named (I know Brent's a fan of "Midnight Falls. And can't get up.") and some aren't (I think the reason Book III is "Searching for a Plot" instead of "The Search for Plot" is that the latter was the title of Mad's Star Trek III parody).

I'm seeing end-of-the-decade lists pop up everywhere, but have no great urge to put up any of my own. I can't fucking believe I've got my 10-year high school reunion coming up. Feels like I don't have much to show for it, but on the other hand, I've got a pretty good life, all things considered.

Which isn't to say it can't get better. Here's hoping 2010 continues the past year's trend of wonderful things while ending its trend of terrible ones.

Happy New Year.


Reading: Jeez, haven't read a prose book in months; spending entirely too much money on comics. I just finished Fables vol 7 and Usagi Yojimbo vol 1.
Playing: New Super Mario Bros. and Dragon Age: Origins.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #1

So, people on the messageboard have recently been prodding me about the fact that there are threads there that consist largely of me posting and nobody replying, yet meanwhile I have let my blog languish since February. It is a fair point, and so I'm going to start putting my posts about things nobody else apparently wants to talk about up here instead of on the boards.

Sadly, Love and Rockets seems to be one of those things, and that's a shame -- anything involving Skrulls or written by Mark Millar provokes lively discussion, yet when I bring up one of the seminal series in comics history (and, for my money, a fantastic piece of American literature)? Nada.

So this week marked the debut of Love and Rockets: New Stories, the third volume of the series and a new format -- a beefy 100-page annual. I suspect that the reason they titled it New Stories instead of simply Volume 3 is that, at a glance, it looks like a trade; they want to emphasize that it is not, in fact, a collection of old stuff.

The presentation is 7 short Gilbert stories (one of which is written by Mario) bookended by a Jaime story in two 24-page installments.

Jaime's story is set, loosely, in Locas continuity -- it features Penny Century and Xo, and Maggie appears briefly -- but it doesn't fit with the series' usual realistic themes; it's a superhero story. It recalls the early Maggie the Mechanic stories, where dinosaurs and robots appeared as casual, everyday parts of life, and Love and Rockets was actually a fairly accurate description of what you were likely to see in the book.

That aside, needless to say, it's not everday superhero fare. There's plenty of Kirby love to go around, but this is still a Love and Rockets story -- it's about family issues, old friends reuniting, and strong women.

That element of the familiar pervades Gilbert's stories, too, but he abandons his established world -- there's no Palomar here, nor even any of its tangentially related characters like Venus or Fritz. They're also short -- Jaime devotes 48 pages to a single story, while Beto's longest is 16.

Papa, The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy, and Victory Dance form a trilogy of sorts, increasingly surreal as they go. Mario's story, Chiro El Indio, is not so much surreal as whimsical, and has a certain 1920's vibe to it. Never Say Never is a funny animal story about luck and sharing the wealth, while the aptly-named ? is a thick-lined, surreal pictures-only story that recalls Owly or Frank.

Beto's stories show a good deal of stylistic range -- I'm not an artist and I'm likely to stumble in trying to describe what he does with lines and shading, but each story is visually distinct.

Anyway. Love and Rockets. One of the all-time greats, and I love that it's still being published -- even if we only get one a year now.

Looking forward to Beto's story in this year's Treehouse of Horror comic.


Playing: Just finished Mass Effect for the second time; working my way through various Mega Man titles in preparation for 9.

Reading: Our Dumb World, in-between various comics. The local Atomic Comics had a 20% off sale on Labor Day and I picked up a stack; so far I've read Astonishing X-Men vol 4: Unstoppable and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight.

When a City Goes to War...

I'm involved, off and on, in a lengthy project to try and consolidate my nearly 20 years' worth of comics, bag, board, and sort them. (Precisely how to sort them presents a rub -- presumably first by year and then by title, but figuring out how many months' worth of comics will fit in any given box creates a huge headache. And many comics do not print the goddamn year on the cover.)

Tonight's run through about 100 different comics from ten to fifteen years ago was largely discouraging -- most of them were from my unfortunate X-Men phase. (There was even a Clone Saga ish of Spidey in there.) As I started going through issues of Generation X, I felt a burning desire to apologize to myself for all the stupid, stupid things that seemed like a good idea when I was a teenager. I'm big on taking responsibility for my mistakes, no matter how young and misguided I was when I made them.

But then I hit on my nearly-complete run of TMNT: City at War and that reminded me that, dammit, I made mistakes, but I still had pretty damn good judgement at times, too. It's a source of constant consternation to me that I am missing one issue of that arc -- #56, to be exact.

If you have a copy you want to part with, let me know. I'll trade you a #48, as I have two copies of it for some reason.

Meantime, guess I'll keep an eye on eBay -- I was briefly thrilled to see somebody selling a TMNT #56 there, but it turned out to be the Archie comic, not the Mirage one.

And I really should start checking out comic shops in my neighborhood. I've still been shopping at my old store in Tempe despite it being 30 miles away, because they've been good to me over the past ten years or more and I am a loyal customer. But they don't have a great back issue selection, and they're also 30 miles away.

Edit, 2007-05-20: I got a message today from somebody asking if I was still looking for TMNT #56. The answer is no; I found it -- and filled the rest of the gaps in my vol 1 collection, too -- on nostalgiazone.com a few months back. Thanks anyway.

I am still missing the bulk of the original Tales series, so if anyone has any hot tips on those, let me know. Thanks.

No Spoilers

(Okay, one spoiler. But it's for Batman Begins, which everybody's probably already seen by now anyway.)

This is just completely fucking absurd.

(And yeah, my referrals from the Bioware page have pretty much dried up, so I'm going back to gratuitous use of the word "fuck". In fact more gratuitous than usual in this post.)

Look, it's nice seeing comics get mainstream press attention (even if it's for shit like the new Batwoman being a lipstick lesbian -- who also happens to be Officer Montoya's former lover, because of course all the lesbians in Gotham know each other. Apparently in the Marvel U all African superheroes are childhood friends, too.), and I'm sure this will boost sales for an industry that could really use them, but you don't goddamn post a headline spoiling the ending of a comic within hours of it hitting the stands.

This is complete horseshit, and it's symptomatic of the complete lack of respect comic books get as a medium.

I mean, seriously. Can you imagine a paper running a story with a headline spoiling the ending of a movie that came out that same day? Even a movie about superheroes? Did you see any papers running headlines like "Henri Ducard is Actually Ra's Al-Ghul"? Or how about "X, Y, and Z die in X3"? (See that last one? The movie's been out for weeks and it's still too soon for me to be comfortable writing spoilers for it.)

The press doesn't print articles that ruin, right in the headline, endings of new movies. Or new books. I suppose they do with new TV, but they at least wait until the show's aired on the west coast. Oh, but this is a comic book. It's not like anybody cares about spoilers for a comic book.

And so there I am, sitting at work on my break -- I am still at work and certainly have not had a fucking chance to go to the comic store yet -- and the Huffington Post sees fit to tell me how Civil War #2 ends.

Fuck you, Huffington Post. And fuck everybody else who blabbed about this today without so much as a spoiler warning. Fuck you from the bottom of my heart.

And another thing: if you're going to write a headline about Spider-Man, get his fucking name right. Spider-Man. With a hyphen.

And as for anyone who wants to be surprised by the ending of Civil War #2, you'd better go pick it up right now, and do your very best not to watch, read, or listen to any news before you get it, because I don't know how long you can make it without somebody jumping out and ruining it for you.

You fuckers think that just 'cause a guy reads comics he can't start some shit?

Why I Love The Walking Dead

Break time again. Figure I may as well balance that "why I hate" I'd been meaning to write with a "why I love" I've been meaning to write.

My new favorite comic of the past year is The Walking Dead.

Actually, issue #1 is free online. Go read it.

Did you read it? Okay. You probably have a pretty good idea why I like it. But let me elaborate: the real reason I like it is that, twenty-four issues later, it's still that good. Things keep happening. From a premise that generally fizzles by the end of an hour-and-a-half movie, we've got a series that's still interesting after over two years.

I think the appeal is that we're looking at a microcosm of life. In this tiny community of characters, we see characters become close and then drift apart, families torn asunder, and a hero forced to keep the group together who finally starts to buckle under the strain. And we see all this happen at breakneck speed -- what we're seeing is life in fast motion, spurred on by the characters' knowledge that they could die at any moment.

It's easily the best zombie story I've ever seen, but the zombies themselves are incidental -- this story could take place on a deserted island, in an Orwellian dystopia, on a hostile planet, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (well, I guess that last one isn't so far off) -- in any setting where a tiny group tries to fight seemingly impossible odds just to survive one day to the next.

My uncle suggested that the draw of zombie stories is people's desire to see a story broken down into us-versus-them tribalism. I think that's a big part of it, but I think it's bigger than that: it's life distilled down to its component parts, people growing and changing and coming together and breaking apart, all sped up by the fear of imminent death.

And that's why The Walking Dead is my favorite comic right now. Some other comics I'm reading:

Transformers. I'm ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, it's nice seeing more G1; on the other, Jesus Christ how many times are we going to have to sit through the origin story?! By my count, there are already 5 different damn Transformers universes (G1 cartoon, Marvel comic, Dreamwave comic, Robots in Disguise, Armada/Energon/Cybertron) in the US -- I'm not even going to get into the various Japanese series that never made it over here -- and a sixth on the way in the upcoming (ugh) Michael Bay movie. Why do we need another one?

Don't get me wrong, the new comic's solid so far, but...why do it like this? Why start from scratch yet again? Why not do something that adds to the universe -- more War Within-era prequels, some stories set in-between G1 and Beast Wars, or even after Beast Machines? (Preferably some post-BM stories that are published by a company that has some sort of distribution besides ordering online and won't get its license revoked after four issues.)

Batman and the Monster-Men. Matt Wagner tells a good, solid year-two story (much better than, oh, say, Year Two), and examines a turning point in Batman's career: thinking he's finally got crime in Gotham on the run, he realizes he's instead created an arms race: he may have taken care of the petty thugs, but now he has mad scientists and supervillains to deal with. Add the fact that this is adapted from an original 1940 Kane/Finger story and you've got some serious fan service. Plus I just like Hugo Strange and don't think he gets enough play -- he is, after all, the original member of Batman's rogues' gallery, predating both Joker and Catwoman by a few months. That and I just dig Wagner's art.

Batman has always been one of my favorite characters, and always a book I simply can't stand to read. The character's been handled poorly for the past twenty years. But it seems that we're in a serious turnaround now, and with Morrison and Dini taking over his two books soon, I'm going to have to start picking them up.

Speaking of Morrison, good Lord that guy writes a lot of comics these days. Seven Soldiers has been fantastic, as has All-Star Superman.

Ellis has been putting out a hell of a lot of books too, and for somebody who hates superheroes, he doesn't seem to write much else these days. Iron Man: Extremis has been a great book, and I particularly liked the retelling of the origin in the most recent issue -- the original Iron Man armor is my favorite; it just looks like such a godawful burden to wear. And that was a vital part of the original character: Tony wore the suit to stay alive, not because he set out to be a hero. The reluctant hero theme in the early sixties was vital to ushering in the Marvel Age: Spider-Man was just trying to pay the rent, the Hulk and the Thing were desperate to cure their conditions, and Iron Man put the suit on because he had shrapnel lodged in his heart.

Tony's new nano-armor is a great arc-ending concept, but I'm not really looking forward to seeing it in-continuity. Hopefully it, like the Spider Armor, is done away with by the end of Civil War.

Dead Girl: I was a huge X-Statix fan from the get-go, and disappointed to see the book go (I blame the editors for not just letting the creatives run with the Princess Di story; I think any reader would agree that was the jump-the-shark point of the series). So it's great to see the team back again, and with the high-concept twist of exploring the very nature of comic book death. Dr. Strange is the perfect vehicle for this story, I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out who the Pitiful One could be, and the art is gorgeous -- I was worried when I heard Allred wouldn't be doing the pencils, but honestly with him doing the inks I can't tell the difference.

I've also been digging the comic adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and it finally hit me last night that the protagonist is a dead ringer for Arthur Dent. As Gaiman is a well-known Adams fan (even wrote a book about him), there's no way this is coincidence.

Looking forward to work from Busiek (Superman, Aquaman, Marvels 2, and of course Astro City) and wondering what Priest is up to these days.

Oh, and Superman/Batman punked out: the guy in the Batman Beyond costume is Tim, not Terry. Booooo.

Seems like I must be forgetting something, but damned if I can think what it is right now. Well, I'm sure this won't be my last post on the subject of comics.