Category: Comics

The Big Little Moment in Batgirl #19

Expanded from a Brontoforumus post I wrote yesterday. Spoilers follow.


I haven't been reading Batgirl ('cept one issue a couple months ago). I don't really know Alysia Yeoh. I knew enough to know she was who everybody was figuring would be the trans character.

But y'know, coming into it as a new reader, I think Simone really nailed it. It's the wonderful little moment of "this is a big deal to this character but it doesn't really change anything". It's that peculiar mix of something that really matters and simultaneously doesn't matter at all.

That's Simone's strength: these little human moments.

I've been on the other end of an "I have something to tell you" coming-out moment a handful of times in my life. It's just like that. The moment of "I'm glad you're comfortable telling me, but from where I'm sitting it doesn't change a thing." Or, in some cases, "Well Jesus, dude, I knew that within five minutes of meeting you" or "Yeah, I just assume every woman on the Internet is physiologically male." It's something that's so big and so small, all at once.

And superhero secret identities as a metaphor for the closet is hardly a new idea, but I've rarely seen an actual superhero comic commit to it so fully and unambiguously. Alysia reveals her secret to Barbara, but Barbara doesn't reveal her secret to Alysia -- and indeed, while her brother and her mother know, she hasn't told her own father. Subtle it ain't, but deft and nuanced it is. Simone takes on a great tradition here, what the masks and the cowls really say about people -- and it bears remembering that superheroes are rooted in the American Jewish tradition. Taking on an assumed name, hiding your identity from all but a trusted few -- the experience of the oppressed outsider is deeply encoded in the DNA of the superhero. Simone pays homage to that heritage here, in a way that never distracts and always serves the story.

As for that story, as for the rest of the book -- well, it's more of the "Barbara's brother is a sociopathic serial killer" arc that I don't care much for. I think Gail does a fantastic job with it but it is so very much not my cup of tea.

She's promised things are going to get lighter in the coming months, but next month's cover has a super-creepy new version of the Ventriloquist on it and I'm not holding my breath.

Still, I expect I'll be along for the ride for a little while to come, at least. Even if the big stories don't interest me, the little ones do -- and there are few other writers working in mainstream superhero comics right now who are Gail Simone's equal at those.

Monoculture

Well, I was all set to write a post filled with righteous indignation at Apple's nannying and censoring ways when I read that Saga #12 was banned from being sold through the iOS version of the Comixology app.

But then when I sat down to write it I found that Comixology is now claiming Apple never actually refused it, Comixology chose not to submit it on the assumption that Apple would reject it.

That makes for a bit of a different post.

But a lot of the major points remain.

First of all, the disproportionate market share enjoyed by both Apple and Comixology in the comics market is cause for concern. Monoculture is a bad thing, and when there's only one distribution point for a product -- or two, or three --, that puts the producer and the consumer at the middleman's advantage. And it can amount to censorship. Or price-fixing, or any number of other ills.

Additionally, even if this is Comixology's fuckup, it's the result of Apple's notoriously vague content restrictions. Even if Comixology played it too cautious on this one, there's still the story of what allegedly happened to French publisher Izneo just two weeks ago:

Two weeks ago -- on the eve of the long Easter week-end, the site IDBOOX notes -- the Izneo folks got an order from Apple to remove the "pornographic" content from their app. With no clue as to what Apple would judge to be pornographic, the Izneo folks immediately took down 2,800 of the 4,000 comics in their app, cautiously removing anything that could hint of adult content, including Blake and Mortimer and XIII, both of which are published in print in the U.S. without any fuss. Then they reviewed those comics and put about half of them back, but that still leaves 1,500 titles that aren’t in the app any more. Izneo took quite a financial hit on this; turns out comics featuring "Les jolies filles un peu sexy" are their top sellers. (This story, it should be said, came from an anonymous source.)

And even though that story seems to be apocryphal, stories of Apple's arbitrary app rejection and inconsistent treatment of adult content are legion. The first time I ever browsed the iTunes store, the title of Bitches Brew was censored. In the years since, many developers and publishers have expressed frustration that Apple rejected their submissions and didn't tell them why. And then of course there's Jobs's famous Orwellian "freedom from porn" stance.

Ultimately, I'm an Android user because I don't want a single company to be in charge of content distribution. It's not that I trust Google -- I really don't. I have plenty of complaints about Google; they're invasive, monopolistic, and generally evil and scary. But the bottom line, for me, is that they make it much easier to run whatever software you want on their devices -- and as far as I'm concerned, the choice between Android and iOS doesn't take any choosing at all.

Obits

Roger Ebert's going to be getting most of the press today. But some other important folks died these past couple days too.

You know who writes great obits? Mark Evanier writes great obits. I'll start you off with his post on Ebert.

Then there's George Gladir, unsung Archie scribe, co-creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and 2007 recipient of the Bill Finger Award, an award that recognizes great comics writers who don't get the attention they deserve.

A comics creator who did get plenty of attention also passed today: Carmine Infantino, one of the most important artists, creators, and editors in the history of the business. He's best known for ushering in the Silver Age between the co-creation of the Barry Allen Flash and the design of the New Look Batman. And he was art director during an era noted for stories written around crazy covers.

And I learned something about one of my coworkers today: when I told him Ebert and Infantino had died, I got a bigger reaction for Infantino. You know, I'm starting to like this place.

Last, but not least -- and I'm going with the New York Times here because Evanier doesn't have an obit for her -- yesterday marked the passing of Jane Henson, Jim's widow and earliest collaborator.

Sad times -- we lost some real talents. But they all had a good run.

Ditko Kickstarter

There are lots of reasons I'm happy to be back to work.

It's something to do during the day. I'm working with good people. It's fun and it's challenging. It's the shortest commute I've had since 2010, the closest thing to a programming job I've had since 2004, and the highest-paying day job I've ever had. I don't have to stress out about how I'm going to pay bills and buy groceries; I can sign up for a new healthcare plan instead of worrying about when COBRA's going to expire. I can post Zappa songs with titles like I Promise Not to Come In Your Mouth without worrying that'll be the first thing a hiring manager sees when they Google my name.

But you know what single thing has made me happier than anything else now that I've got an income?

I got to contribute to the Ditko Public Service Package Kickstarter.

I've been meaning to buy some of Ditko's creator-owned work for literally years at this point, and this is the easiest it's ever been. The Kickstarter, as the name implies, is to reprint the 1991 Ditko Public Service Package, and various levels of backing get you various other Ditko goodies courtesy of publisher Robin Snyder. At $20 plus $5 shipping, you get the book plus a selection of back issues of The Comics!; for $40 plus $6 shipping you get lots more Ditko material. I spent the $46 and look forward to getting my comics. More than that, I hope that the success of this endeavor leads to Snyder coming back to Kickstarter with more out-of-print Ditko material in the future.

And it is a success; it's already exceeded its goal by thousands of dollars. And that money's not just going to independent publisher Robin Snyder -- it's also going to independent cartoonist Steve Ditko.

I talk a lot about creators' rights here, and comic book creators' in particular. I talk, even more in particular, about Marvel's shabby treatment of its creators.

If you buy a Spider-Man comic, movie ticket, DVD, action figure, pajama set, Ditko doesn't get shit. But if you buy a creator-owned Ditko comic from Robin Snyder, you're buying from the only publisher Steve Ditko trusts -- and you're supporting Ditko himself, at his most raw, unfiltered, and personal.

My thanks to Robin and Brigit Snyder for the opportunity. And my thanks to Steve Ditko for being Steve Ditko.

There's about a day and a half left -- if you want some creator-owned Ditko comics, you've still got time.

And if you miss the Kickstarter, you can always order from Robin Snyder by mail; see the Steve Ditko Comics Weblog for details.

Saga: Sexy, Funny, Thrilling, and Sad

Spoilers for Saga #11 follow.

When I first opened Saga #11, I was sitting in the lobby of Big-O Tires waiting for an oil change.

And I was like Wow, that sure is a giant splash page of two people fucking right on the first page.

So I quickly flipped to the next page. And on page two, it was naked people talking about how they'd just finished fucking.

So yeah it wasn't a very good comic to be reading in public so I put it back in my bag and read Bravest Warriors instead.

But when I did get around to reading Saga, in the privacy of my own home, it was a legitimately great comic.

First of all, that sex scene? Pretty hot. Not just because of the graphic first page (not the most graphic thing Fiona Staples has shown us in the book to date), but because of the banter afterward. Alana acknowledging she lost control, with a few choice dirty words -- it's a side of her we haven't seen before, and it's sexy.

But it's also funny. Vaughan's good at witty dialogue -- and it bears adding that these characters have their own voice. There may be a whiff of Y in the deadpan lines that make me chuckle, but it doesn't feel like Yorick Brown arguing with Agent 355 and Dr. Mann. It's most definitely Alana and Marko talking -- it feels easy and natural from these two warrior fugitives in love.

But that's a flashback. Specifically, to Hazel's conception. Back in the present, we pick up at last month's cliffhanger: the Will has found the fugitives, there's a hatching baby Timesuck about to wipe out both ships, and the Will's ship's hull's been breached and Lying Cat's been sucked out into space. The end of last issue strongly implied Lying Cat was dead, but it was a fakeout; the Will is having none of it. He leaps out into space without a suit, saves Lying Cat, and gets the fuck out of Dodge. It's the strongest Fuck Yeah! moment in the issue; the Will lives up to his name and rescues a beloved character, Hazel's narration and the laws of physics be damned.

But while the Will's party makes it out unscathed, Marko's doesn't.

Marko's mother urges him to take the crash helms and teleport out with Alana and Hazel. Marko instead throws them into the ship's reactor, thinking that this way his parents won't have to sacrifice themselves. He's half-right.

It turns out the peaceful, pastoral image of Marko's father threading flowers on the cover is foreshadowing -- because he doesn't make it out. He uses the last of his strength casting a spell to hold the ship together. And, barring any further unreliable-narrator shenanigans from Hazel, he's really gone. We've known it was coming for months, but we didn't know it would be so soon.

This book, man.

I'm not sure when the last time was that I read a comic that put me through this wide a gamut of emotions -- quite possibly The Love Bunglers. Vaughan and Staples sing here; it may be the best issue yet of what's already become one of my favorite series.

If you're not checking out Saga -- and you read this far down anyway -- give it a look. #1 is free on Comixology.

And if you dig Brian K Vaughan, check out The Private Eye, his new DRM-free, pay-what-you-want comic with Marcos Martin on art.

What a week.

I was planning on writing about last week's excellent issue of Saga, but I haven't gotten around to it.

I'm planning on eventually writing about my concerns about the new, Priest-and-Bright-free Quantum and Woody series, but I'd like to wait until there's more information and, ideally, Priest and/or Bright themselves weigh in.

I got a job this week. That's a pretty big deal. Actually I had to choose between two offers, which isn't a dilemma I've had since, oh, 2006.

Today I peed in a cup, bought comics, and went to my cousin's fourteenth birthday party. It was a good time.

Mostly I'm very much looking forward to getting back to work. I'm a little nervous about the new job, as I am every time I have a new job, and a little nervous about whether I've made the right call, as I am every time I have to choose between two jobs. But I'm not a big worrier. What will be will be. It'll turn out, eventually. Keep moving forward.

North Bumfuck

Well, I guess I did all right at at least one of those interviews, because I've got a job offer.

It's the one up at the damn northern border of Phoenix -- God only knows why I keep getting jobs way up there. It's a pay increase from my last gig, which will hopefully be enough to cover the extra wear and tear that a 70-mile daily round-trip will wreak on my car.

Still, pretty happy about it. Will be happier if I get one of the other offers, but still, this is a step up from my last job and a big step up from unemployment.

And it looks like it's good leverage. I met with the other agency today and it looks like they're pushing to get me more money and fast-track me into the opening. Fingers crossed, but the important thing is I've got a job either way.

Also while I was waiting in the lobby at the agency I saw the news that Quantum and Woody is coming back.

A job and new Quantum and Woody? This is, like, the third-best day I've had all month.

Books I'm Dropping

I observed, last month, that while I think Scott Snyder is an immensely talented writer and really gets Batman, his two major arcs up to this point really haven't been for me.

I decided to give him one more shot, that #18 would be make-or-break for me.

Well, the good news is, #18 really is pretty great. It brings back Harper Row, the main character from issue #7, my single favorite issue of the new series. #18 isn't quite as good as that one (among other things it lacks Becky Cloonan -- though Alex Maleev's work is fantastic and obviously Andy Kubert is no slouch), but it's a good solid continuation of Harper's story, and gives us a good street-level view of Batman freaking the fuck out following Damian's death.

There's fan speculation at this point that Harper is going to become the new Robin. That would certainly fit what happens in this story, and I wouldn't mind it -- but I'd much rather she stay Just a Regular Person. I've said before, often, that my favorite superhero stories are the man-on-the-street ones -- Ditko's Just a Guy Named Joe, Harmon and Jones's To Serve and Protect, Busiek and Ross's Marvels, Busiek and Anderson (and Ross)'s Astro City. I love supporting characters in the Bat-verse like Leslie Tompkins, or the guy who fixes up the Batmobile, or the lady who builds the supervillains' lairs. I would love for Harper to stay another one of those -- an ordinary person leading a relatively ordinary life that occasionally and extraordinarily intersects with Batman's. That, for me, is her ideal role.

But if she becomes Robin, I'd be down with that too.

(Course, I also won't rule out Damian coming back. This is comics. And it's not like Morrison's never done the "bring everybody back to life in his last issue" trick before.)

But now for the bad news:

If Batman #18 was the book that convinced me to stick with the Snyder/Capullo run, the news that #21-#31 are going to retell the origin story is probably going to convince me not to.

Origin Stories Forever!
Image via CollegeHumor.
This fucking thing was on the inside cover of every DC comic a few months ago.
Apparently without any intention of irony.

I am not spending forty-four dollars reading Batman's fucking origin story again.

Like every sentient human being in the galaxy, I already know Batman's origin story. I've seen it. I've seen the Finger/Kane/Moldoff version. I've seen the Burton version. I've seen the Timm/Burnett/Gilroy/Derek/Kirkland version. I've seen the Miller/Mazzucchelli version. I've seen the Nolan version. I've seen the Tucker/Jelenic/Vietti/Beechen version. I've seen Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and various Kuberts take a crack at it. I've seen the Liu/Montgomery adaptation of the Miller/Mazzucchelli version. I haven't seen the Johns/Frank version. And I've got zero damn interest in the Snyder/Capullo version.

Look. I love Batman. And I love his origin story. It's a classic bit of comics history, it's one of the key elements to his story, and it's one of the reasons he's endured as an American icon for lo these 74 years.

But enough is e-goddamn-nough. Give it a rest. Tell some new stories.

Finger, Kane, and Moldoff told Batman's origin in a page and a half. There is no good damn reason to stretch it out to eleven issues at four bucks a pop.

I'm sick of the fucking relaunches, rehashes, reboots, retcons, repetition, and various other words beginning with "re".

I'm the biggest damn Batman fan I know. And I'm sick of this crap.

I'll probably read #19 and #20. And I'll probably stick with Inc as long as Morrison's writing, and maybe Detective as long as Layman's writing. But there's every chance I'll be a non-Batman reader before the year is out.


Also, I think I'm done with Animal Man. I finished the latest issue, did some reflecting, realized I genuinely did not give a fuck about anything that had happened in this issue or any issue since Travel Foreman left the series, shrugged, and decided that's another three bucks a month I could stand to spend on something else instead. Like air conditioning. It's supposed to be 94 degrees today. It is the middle of March.

This is really a pity, as Animal Man was absolutely the best comic out of the New 52. But that Rotworld shit went on way past its shelf life.

And here we hit the central problem, I think, with comics marketing for the past couple of decades: things like crossovers and reboots do sell -- but their popularity is unsustainable. Today's sales through cheap gimmicks come at the expense of tomorrow's sales through loyalty, goodwill, and repeat business.

The good news is, there's so much great shit out there right now from publishers who aren't DC or Marvel.

Sick and Tired

So I made it through the past couple weeks of being both sick and crazy busy with a wedding, without missing a blog post. So I guess I'd feel pretty silly to miss one now that I'm merely sick, and no longer crazy busy with a wedding.

Damn thing's still hanging on. Indeed, it's still in "too sick to go buy comics on Wednesday" territory. I'm improving, but not nearly damn fast enough.

Finally went to the doctor today and got some antibiotics. So, one more pill to take a couple of times a day; we'll see how it goes.

Mostly just trying to take it easy, heal up. Which is kind of a bummer because my dad and brother are still in town and I'd rather be out with them. Ah well -- plan on grabbing lunch with them tomorrow.


Reading: Just finished A Study in Scarlet. It spent rather a lot more time talking about the Mormon settlement of Utah than I expected.

Playing: Cthulhu Saves the World, and the original Half-Life in its new native-Linux version.

More Stupid Ideas in Digital Distribution

Stop me if you've heard this one: a media company does a promotion, is totally unprepared for the traffic it generates, the servers are obliterated so that legitimate customers can't access their stuff, and all the while pirates are still able to trivially obtain the media in question.

I'm talking about Comixology and Marvel, but I could just as easily be talking about EA ('cept that last part I guess; to my knowledge there's no crack to run SimCity without a network connection as yet).

Marvel started a big promotion the other day: 700 free issue #1's through Comixology.

The demand took down the Comixology site for two days. And it's still running slowly.

To blame for all this? Two things:

  1. a client-server distribution model with only a single website available to download from, and
  2. DRM on the files to make sure nobody else can set up a mirror.

Well, I should say "to make sure nobody else can set up a legal mirror", because, well, if you've been on the Internet for five minutes and are not a complete dumbshit, you're probably aware that anyone who wants those comics can trivially find pirated copies.

Go the legal route, with Comixology? You get a proprietary file that you can only read in their program. Provided you can access their fucking website at all.

Go the illegal route, through some dodgy website? You get a CBR, or a CBZ, or a PDF, which you can read in any program that supports that format. And you don't have to worry about whether a single specific website is actually working in order to acquire that file.

It doesn't take a fucking genius to see which is the superior, more customer-friendly option.

Let's talk about what customers want. Hey, I like comics. Let's start with me. Here, maybe this will help you get a feel for just how much money you could potentially squeeze out of me:

27 shortboxes, a long box, and a stack of bags a couple of feet high of books I haven't boxed yet

Not pictured: 14 more shortboxes, plus about 2/3 of a bookcase taken up by hardcovers and trades.

My point is, I have spent a fuck of a lot of money on comics over the course of my life.

You know how much I've spent on Comixology? Zero. The Dark Horse digital store? Zero.

And make no mistake: that's not just because I prefer physical comics. I do, but I've downloaded any number of free comics from both those stores. I've read them and I've enjoyed them. I'd be adding those 700 Marvel #1's to my collection right the fuck now if the website were functional.

But free is the amount I am willing to pay for a DRM-infected book, comic or otherwise. If you won't let me read the file on whatever computer I want, in whatever program I want, then you're not getting a damn dime from me.

I realize I'm not the guy Comixology's trying to appeal to here -- they're trying to draw in new readers, not people who know what happens on Wednesdays. I get that. I'm not the target audience here.

But the target audience is getting timeouts too. Not just new readers coming for the Marvel promo, but existing customers who can't access their accounts.

So, here are a couple of points to start with that I think should be blisteringly obvious:

The very idea of restricting access to a free digital giveaway is completely fucking insane.

Why put DRM on something you're giving away for free? What conceivable reason is there for this? Why would you want to restrict copying of a free promotion that you are doing?

And why only make it available from a single distributor?

I mean, I get the reasoning behind that one, at least: they want to turn people into Comixology customers. They don't want people to just grab the free comics and never bother coming the the Comixology site. I get the theory.

But in practice, well, how's that working out for you guys? You getting any customers out of this thing?

Here's the right way to do it: just post all 700 files in a big torrent file. Make them CBR/CBZ format. And stick an ad for Comixology in every file.

Ever see a popular torrent collapse under the weight of high demand? Of course you haven't. Because that is the opposite of how BitTorrent works. BitTorrent is at its absolute best on files that are in high demand.

Now, I know why media companies don't take advantage of BitTorrent: because that would legitimize BitTorrent. As far as the publishers are concerned, BitTorrent is synonymous with piracy. They want the protocol banned entirely -- so of course they're not willing to acknowledge that it can be used as a tool for legal distribution, and a very very good one at that.

So instead, they opt for DRM-encumbered files distributed through a traditional client-server model -- and create this gigantic fucking debacle. And you know what their takeaway from this is going to be? "Well, obviously we need to make sure we've got more bandwidth next time." They're going to think that the problem is that their stupid distribution model wasn't implemented correctly, not that their stupid distribution model is stupid.

"Let's just make sure we've got more bandwidth next time" was EA's solution to the authentication problems that Spore users faced in 2008. 5 years later, did it work?

As long as you're thinking that the fix is a better delivery mechanism for DRM-infected content, you're doing it wrong. The problem will persist.


But you know, there are lots of great digital comics out there that aren't from Comixology and aren't DRM-infected. I've gushed about Mark Waid's Thrillbent before; those are all DRM-free and free to download. I also enjoyed the first issue of Dracula the Unconquered by Chris Sims, Steve Downer and Josh Krach; it's DRM-free and only costs a buck.

The point here isn't merely to castigate companies who do it wrong -- please reward the ones who do it right.