Saturday, May 15, 2010

DC Comics' Digital Strategy

I wrote a post about DC and their seeming lack of a digital strategy (at the moment) over at Comic Fodder.

Superman Case Takes a Surprise Turn

Likely we'll be following the ongoing legal wrangling over Superman as WB and the Siegel Family (heirs to the Superman creator) sort out who owns what.

A new wrinkle in the case on Friday. I may be reading this wrong, but WB is not suing the Siegels. They are suing the Siegel's atorney, basically charging that he;s not trying to represent his clients, but that he's angling to get a part of the Superman money for himself.

Biff! Bam! Pow! DC Comics Sues Lawyer Over Superman Rights - Law Blog - WSJ

Better legal minds than mine can sort through this thing, but given how long and difficult the litigious wranglings have been when it seems this should have been a matter of agreeing on a number (the Siegels need somebody to manage he Superman empire for them, and WB needs the continuity of keeping the license), and that hasn't happened.

We'll keep watching...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Weekly Watch Wind 05/14/2010

Comics/Porn: How awesome is it that I get to write on this two weeks in a row? Not awesome? Okay.

Anyway, based upon the success of the Batman XXX trailer, Vivid has announced a line of "porn parodies" of popular comic favorites. The list includes Superman and Wonder Woman. This means Wonder Woman is getting a porn off the ground before WB can conceive of a live action movie for anyone to parody.

Sometimes I just want to punch WB right in the face.

Comics: Horus at Against the Modern World looks at how some creators are starting from the superhero springboard and doing something completely different with the idea. I've read the Eightball comic and some Superf***ers in the past. The use and subversion of the tropes of the genre are pretty darn good in both. Its been years, but I remember thinking Eightball was just amazing when I read it.

Anyway, he says smart-people stuff about the comics. I recommend.

Comics: On the other end of the spectrum, Superman V. Flash. V. Duke Boys.

Superman/ Odd: We here at the Signal Watch are the first to admit we waste a shameful amount of time and money on needless things. Many of those things involve Superman. But...

Apparently a herd of fans has joined forces to pay for the production of a "thank you" commercial for actress Allison Mack of Smallville TV fame, and to air it on LA (and possibly New York) TV during the season finale of Smallville.

Mack plays Clark Kent's childhood pal (imagined solely for the TV show) who started out as the most intrepid high school newspaper reporter ever, and was revealed to be Lois Lane's cousin. Since then, the Chloe character has become the super-hacker/ ops center for all the super heroes on Smallville, filling the role taken by "Oracle" in the JLA comics.

Mack is a fine actor, but I find the fan-gushing a bit ridiculous.

Anyway, far be it from me to tell people how to spend their time and money, but... srsly. I totally don't understand fan culture anymore. Somehow the whole thing strikes me as kind of stalkerish, but en masse.

Comics: A fun rundown of the best teen sidekicks in comics. I'm a fan of any list that gives Jimmy Olsen his due:
For me, no other character defines the abject craziness of the Silver Age more than Jimmy. I mean, the Elastic Lad serum aside, he didn't even really have super-powers; he was just a dude who knew Superman, and because of that he got a fan club, trips to the future and the past, a Viking sexbot...

Movies: If you didn't see it yet, there's a pic of the guy playing Thor in the new Thor movie based upon the Marvel comic character. Honestly, I think own something like 14 Thor comic books in my whole collection, so this whole movie (like most Marvel movies) is going to come as a surprise as I have almost no expectations.

Other Sites: Comics Alliance rounds up interviews with disgruntled creators, and its kind of fascinating. The picture painted of the status quo at the DC Comics offices isn't very good, but not too surprising if you've been watching DC over the past few years.

Still waiting to see how things play out under Diane Nelson.

Comics/ Superman/ Late Addition: Jeff Lemire, writer/artist of Essex County and Sweet Tooth fame has taken on an ongoing Superboy series at DC Comics.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Little Orphan Annie: Canceled!

Our heroes

Man, this is absolutely no good.

If you're looking for an indication of the sorts of things we're losing to a mix of the demise of print, changing cultural practices and what happens when you continue creating new and shinier franchises... The Chicago Tribune syndicate is canceling the 85-year-running strip "Little Orphan Annie".

Read here.

Since learning about Tintin while in middle school, I always sort of felt that Annie was America's Tintin. A globetrotting adventurer, getting into all sorts of scrapes that were a bit out of a kid's depth, and often had quite a grand scale to the adventure.

Annie enjoys the holidays

Unlike Europe, America doesn't do quite as much to pass down characters from one generation to another, and certainly hasn't embraced comics as a medium in the same way. Of course, Tintin lived in graphic novels, while Little Orphan Annie existed in newspaper strips and collections of that strip.

However, most Americans now associate Annie with spunky Aileen Quinn and Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks (yes, war profiteer as hero). The movie is a bit of an American kid's classic, and was based upon a long-running stage play that has since become a staple of school and community theaters around the world. (As a kid, Sarah Jessica Parker played Annie in the Broadway version). I've seen the movie, likely, a dozen times since the theatrical release.

The strip always retained its tone of adventure, and its classic, post-Barney Google/ built in the 20's-look, compete with Annie's pupil-less eyes. At least the last time I saw the strip presented as new episodes in the paper, which was back in high school.

I think Sandy got into the catnip

Mostly, I'm sad to see a cultural touchstone closing up shop. Annie is a character that has been a common point of reference for Americans for 85 years. It's not a total surprise that 10 years past the 20th Century, we're beginning to say good-bye to the last party guests.

one of the first Annie strips

For the next fifty or so years, there will be those who grew up with Annie, and work to maintain memory of the characters, but at some point, Little Orphan Annie will be a museum piece that some grad student will puzzle over as they work on their dissertation on secret decoder rings and what "Drink Your Ovaltine" really means.

Your faithful blogger wows the crowd at Common Interest Karaoke with "Tomorrow" from the stage show "Annie". No, seriously. That is exactly what is going on in this picture.

As long as there are kids who want to believe adventure is around any corner, and that partnering with your dog, and guys named "Punjab" and "The Asp" is a good idea (and that a billionaire will decide you're keen and take you around the world), I think there's a place for Annie and her soulless, white eyes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Signal Watch Cinema Series

Looking at the Paramount Summer Series, I was wondering if anyone wanted to look at the calendar and start figuring out some screenings to take in. This is just for early June, but if you see something at the Paramount you know you want to catch, let me know.

I will be be seeing: Shane, Giant, The Last Picture Show, the Adventures of Robin Hood (which is an insanely good movie), and many more. Email or post to comments so we can get organized!

Screenings I'm considering at the Paramount:


Tues-Wed, May 25-26


Sat-Sun, May 29-30

in early June

Tues- Wed & Sun, June 1-2 & 6
PSYCHO 7:20 Sun

BATMAN -- IN PERSON!! (I already have tickets to this event, or should be receiving them, anyway. Get your early!)
Sunday, June 6
BATMAN 2 pm Sun.

Screenings at The Alamo:

June 6 - STAGECOACH, w/ lecture and Q&A (6:30 pm)
I know. Its right after the Batman event, but...

and around the 24th... they're doing an "Anchorman" quote-a-long. One of my favorite movies ever, so... may try to do that.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Movie Watching: Iron Man 2

So, a week or so back the reviews began to hit the internet for Iron Man 2, the sequel to the 2008 surprise hit for Marvel Studios. The reviews were mixed. In fact, somehow the fact that reviewers were not joining forces to give us early warnings about what level of awesomeness to which we should calibrate ourselves became a story unto itself. It seemed that not everyone felt Robert Downey Jr. and Co. had lived up to the expectations.

On Sunday, I caught the sequel, and I am suspecting that at this point, many of you guys may have also seen Iron Man 2.

I simply don't get why people are so down on the movie. I'm not saying that Iron Man 2 is as good as its predecessor, or that its even a great movie. But as for an exciting summer popcorn action flick sequel? For me, it got the job done.

Some awesome @#$% is about to commence.

The movie picked up immediately after the events of the first film, addressed questions that most superhero movies (and comics) dodge regarding the US government's interest in superheroics and super-hardware, and how the appearance of Iron Man would spell "arms race".

It is true that there were a lot of plot threads in the movie, and possibly one or two too many characters. There was also some fairly extraneous, ridiculous stuff that made the movie feel "dumbed down", such as the use of the robot voice of Jarvis to act as an insta-exposition device. The party scene feels a bit forced. Maybe the resolution of Stark's illness is a bit pat.

But with so many sequels that fall completely flat (from what I hear: The Matrix Sequels), or take the characters in directions at odds with the course of the previous film or films (like, say... Highlander 2), Iron Man 2 continues the thread of the same over-the-top Tony Stark we met at the beginning of the first film, and infuses him with a new direction for himself, his company and for what he sees as a future he may be bringing to the world.

Sure, I would have thought Stark would have been held in contempt of congress, or some such charge, but its a fun scene, and more or less wins you over to the unlikely opinion that Stark should be the sole-proprietor of the Iron Man technology (which is, at its heart, a far more driving question in the film than "how sick is Stark?" or "will the villains' scheme work?"). But even that scene is fairly plot heavy, drawing in characters, establishing Hammer's role in the film, and establishing the conflict.

Pretty much exactly what it looked like when I met Jamie...

There's certainly also plenty of connecting the dots between where Iron Man concluded and where Stark will need to be for either an Avengers installment or a sequel. If you're looking at the movie as a foretaste of the Avengers franchise (and I am), its fun to see pieces falling in place. Far more so than were Marvel Studios to try to find an excuse in the Avegers movie to bring all of these characters together with no previous tie-ins. Its an experiment, but one that could pay off like no other franchise before.

One could say there was not enough in the way of Iron Man duking it out with badguys. Maybe I'm old, but there were plenty of other distractions, plot wise, to keep me interested.

spoiler: And, no, nobody believed Stark would die of metal poisoning, and so I didn't mind that it acted more as a catalyst for finding how to super-charge his armor and set up Stark Industries for a new era, all while completing dad's dream. If I can get that plot point in short hand, that's fine by me. end spoiler.

At any rate, its an imperfect film with some great set pieces and a wide variety of characters. And, yes, its a movie featuring both Gwyneth Paltrow and ScarJo, so there's plenty to distract you.

Yeah, I vaguely remember some robot-guy was in the movie, too.

The action scenes and flying scenes we do get are pretty darn good. Guys in armor and with crazy technology beat the living holy hell out of each other (and everyone's kind of okay), robots fly through the air and go "pew pew pew!" at Iron Man, lots of fireballs, and there's even some superspy karate stuff.

Honestly, I have seen Iron Man a fair share of times at this point. While it holds up just fine, I think after Ghost Rider, Daredevil, two fairly embarrassing Fantastic Four movies, Spidey 3, and likely several others I'm forgetting... we were all sort of surprised how much we liked Iron Man.

What you won't get is the satisfaction of the superhero origin story, which is usually the most interesting part about most super-heroes (except for "Matter Eater Lad", who has a boring origin, and is interesting because he eats any kind of matter). We can look to how Nolan must have realized he had spent his Bat-fuel on an origin story, and decided to trade a standard superhero storyline for a sort of intense crime thriller. And maybe that's what some of these sequels are going to have to learn how to do.

It wasn't expecting Dark Knight. I was expecting a superhero movie sequel that was better than FF2, and felt that we got that. So, you know, great.

But, take all this with a grain of salt. I'm also the guy who liked both Hulk movies and Superman Returns.

Yeah. Kind of puts things in perspective.

Reading: The Sixth Gun

So, around Free Comic Book Day, I had a great opportunity when Austin Books hooked me up with an interview with Cullen Bunn (writer) and Brian Hurtt (artist), the creators of The Sixth Gun.

Well, I figure I should probably talk about the actual comic now that I done read it.

You can check my policy regarding how I review stuff, but I basically am going to promise to go ahead and give you my honest opinion, even if the writers and artists were very kind to me.

So... It's very nice to say: this comic is really, really fun.

And well written and drawn, too.

The basic plot is a mix of fantasy/horror and post Civil War old west, complete with Pinkertons, Mexican-style missions, haunted trees of the damned, and a cursed six shooter (our titular Sixth Gun). We meet at least four primary characters, get a hint of the set up and characters, and a look at Hurtt's visual style for the series.

I don't know why the mix works, but the issue had the rare quality of making me curious to see "oh, geez... what happens next?" not so much because of any particular plot point, but because the world Bunn and Hurtt have developed feels rich enough, and the characters at once new and iconic enough, that I want to see how things unfold.

No idea why, but I liked this guy immediately.

I should note, as strong as I found Bunn's story, I really liked Hurtt's style. (a) All of the characters are visually unique, and detailed in a way. (b) He's got a great eye for design on the supernatural elements in a sort of mid-20th Century horror comics style.

Anyhow, I'm glad to be able to recommend issue #1. You can read a free preview (FREE!) online right here.

Your local comic shop may well have copies remaining from Free Comic Book Day. If you can't find a copy, issue #1 and issue #2 are being released simultaneously! Look for them both on 7/14. (thanks to artist Briann Hurt for the info on the release dates!)

Guest Writers Needed

Attention, Signal Corps!!!

Next week, work is going to put a screeching halt on my ability to post.

If you would like to send me a "Guest Post" before Sunday at 7:00 pm, I will (likely) post it next week. I have a tough work week ahead, immediately followed by a quick trip to the shore.

The rules:

Keep on topic. We are talking movies, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc...

We are not using the Signal Watch as your personal soapbox. It is MY personal soapbox. No religion or politics.

I will not post stuff that I know you wrote just to cheese me off, Steanso.

We're trying to keep things sunny and light here at The Signal Watch. So, if you've found you've written a 2000 word essay on why something sucks... find something positive to say, too, or we're going to have to have an awkward email conversation.

We're keeping it moderately clean, so... if you can not use the f-bomb, etc... much appreciated.

Monday, May 10, 2010

RIP, Frank

So long to Frank Frazetta, one of the most well known and possibly one of the most influential artists and illustrators of the 20th and 21st Centuries (depending on who you're talking to).

John Carter rocks Mars.

I kid a lot about Frazetta, partially because growing up in Austin, I came to associate his work with the wall art at Conan's Pizza and eating a metric ton of cheese and meat. Also, seriously, those women were incredible, and you're not supposed to say that out loud. And, of course, the material was fantastical and just plain over the top.

You don't crack the art world by painting non-ironic images of sorceresses, giant panthers and barbarians. But in the end, mass production meant we'd all see his stuff eventually.

In his world, Frazetta was a master of his craft. He carried forward the art of the painted pulp cover and movie poster and turned those covers into iconic images that anyone living in the past 30 years has seen somewhere, and likely knows the art is by one guy, even if they can't remember his name.

Too many comic and illustrative artists can't tell a story with a single image, but that was never Frazetta's problem. Looking at any single Frazetta picture, you really do wonder what, exactly, is going on there, while having a sense that there's worlds within worlds behind that image. It was the perfect compliment to everything from a Molly Hatchet album to catching the eye for John Carter of Mars novels.

He did comics, by the way. Lil' Abner, The Shining Knight, Buck Rogers... the man was incredibly prolific.

Conan. @#$%, yeah. If you want to get this painted on the hood of your car, you are not alone.

As a guy who likes to draw (but drew teh short straw when it came to talent), Frazetta is the kind of artist who would make me just weep onto my drawing table. His anatomy, while superhuman, was always spot on, even with imaginary beasts and creatures. He had terrific control of light and shadow, and while the images were almost always overtly provocative, you couldn't help but respect the guy's handiwork.

I won't give a biography. You can find great run downs elsewhere.

It probably wasn't until I was in my mid-20's, though, before I really grew to appreciate his work. Til then, it had been so omnipresent and imitated, and I took pulp art for granted, that I didn't really take time to appreciate the guy.

Well, so long, Frank. You left behind one hell of an awesome legacy.

Without Frazetta, metal (or at least Molly Hatchet) never would have happened.

Read The Sixth Gun at CBR!

I am actually planning to discuss Cullen Bunn and Briant Hurtt's "The Sixth Gun" later on this week. For now, check out this free read of issue #1 at CBR's Robot 6 blog!

KryptoColumn: Wrapping Up New Krypton

Please forgive the long Superman column. My colleague from Comic Fodder, Travis Pullen, got married this week. But being a responsible chap, while on his honeymoon, TPull didn't want to just let the weeds grow at Comic Fodder and asked if I could pitch in. This column is in the style I wrote for Comic Fodder, so its a bit longer than what I otherwise would do here at The Signal Watch.

So, yes, this is a repost of the work I did for TPull at Comic Fodder.

The Set-Up

In 2006, DC Comics made a sweeping editorial decision to change the direction of their Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman comics (and to a lesser extent, Justice League and Justice Society).

It's fairly clear to anyone who picked up Justice League, Justice Society, parts of Countdown (I know, I know), and related Superman titles that DC did start with a master plan. At the time, Geoff Johns was writing Action Comics and Justice Society. Characters like the Legionnaire, Star Man, appeared from the 31st Century. Simultaneously, Triplicate Girl and Karate Kid had popped up as well in Countdown and the pages of Supergirl.

Ah, Karate Kid. Traveling 1000 years into the past to die stupidly in a terrible series.

In those first Action Comics issues, Superman headed for the future in a pretty great story called "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes".

Superman has some kooky friends.

Rebuilding the SuperBooks

We'd soon get General Zod, Ursa and Non released from the Phantom Zone (a la, "Superman II), and a version of Brainiac fit for the modern Superman comics. Along with a version of the Kryptonian bottle city of Kandor.

All of this meant that a status quo imposed in 1986, that Kal-El was The Last Son of Krypton, would no longer have any relevance. Kryptonians were running all over the place, and elements of the Silver and Bronze Age were back in play, discarding the faux-Kandors, non-Kryptonian Supergirls, and half-baked Zods that had appeared in numerous forms over the years. Rather than continually try to cram a square peg into a round hole in bringing back classic concepts, DC finally bit the bullet and recognized some things just work. And while it would be painful to take the slings and arrows of a fandom raised on the Byrne/ Wolfman version of Superman, if the story worked...

Apparently smarting a bit from how the Super-books had lost focus during the pre-2006 shake-up, editor Matt Idleson and his writing staff had decided to remind readers of the expansive supporting cast that had once been a large part of the Superman comics and the DC Universe. We've seen the return of much of the classic Planet staff, The Guardian, Jimmy Olsen received some spotlights, and the Legion has returned with some of the continuity intact from prior to 1986's Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I've read a lot of Jimmy Olsen. If they wanted him dead, they just needed to leave a trail of Skittles leading off a cliff somewhere.

The Grand Experiment...

Its hard to say that DC did the job particularly smoothly. When they chose to roll Superman out of his own titles and replace him with Mon-El of Superboy and Legion fame, and an all-new Flamebird and Nightwing in Action Comics... well, a year was a long time to sustain the stunt they were trying to pull off, which I'd guess was build momentum for new characters for their own books (see: the success of Batwoman in Detective earning that character her own title).

There was nothing wrong with World of New Krypton, the maxi-series where DC placed Kal-El for 12 issues. It just didn't seem to justify the stunt. Nor did the stories of Mon-El and the Guardian in Superman or Nightwing and Flamebird in Action seem well plotted enough to withstand a year's worth of comics. Readers absolutely felt taxed, and the whole thing had an odd feel of editorial mandate superseding sensible writing.

The oddest part of the whole mess is that over so many titles, and over so much time, elements seemed to get dropped or forgotten. At some point, John Henry Irons duked it out with Atlas (who had been fighting Superman), but for months, nobody mentioned that fight again. Krypto got a big public build up with a great cover by Alex Ross, and has since been relegated to crowd shots. Jimmy Olsen, one of my favorite characters, was apparently shot to death and disappeared, and we've had maybe one panel of the Daily Planet staff idly wondering if Jimmy has stepped out for coffee...

Its been a mind-boggling experiment in telling a sprawling and interwoven story across several years and several titles... but it also demonstrates the difficulty of doing so.

But it kinda worked

As Last Stand of New Krypton wrapped up the penultimate chapter of the saga (in its own mini series, Adventure, Action, Supergirl and Superman titles), and it actually read surprisingly well if you've been bothering to read every single darn Superman book since 2006, there's no question that (a) this was way, way too complicated for the pay off, and (b) that this sort of long form storytelling was going to take some more work to figure out. It's difficult to ask anyone to wait on your schedule, and to afford all the separate pieces to put the story together (let alone identifying what they should have been picking up from various points around the DCU). Not to mention, replacing your most iconic character in his own books for a year: perhaps not the best gamble for growing your audience.

During this whole fight, the piano player never quit playing his merry, old-timey melody

All that said, with March and April's Last Stand of New Krypton, the pay off for readers finally arrived. Plot threads that had seemed like extraneous and shelved ideas by the creative team came back together, from the re-appearance of Zod to the partnership between Luthor and Toyman.

In May, DC's line of Superman titles; Superman, Action Comics, Supergirl and Adventure Comics is on hiatus while DC releases The War of the Supermen, also billed as "The 100 Minute War". Issue one has already provided additional insight into some of those left over plot points (what's happening with John Henry Irons, for example). And by Superman #700, we should see a new creative team taking The Man of Steel in a new direction.

So did DC screw up?

One gets the feeling that DC's periodical division is of the opinion that this sprawling, long form narrative would serve the monthly side of the business. With the significant sales drops, that experiment likely will not see a repeat. In March 2010, Action Comics sold 29,460 copies. In March 2009, Action was selling 47,079 copies.

However, these days the stories from monthlies live on in trade collections. It will be interesting to see if, collected into a few volumes, the story won't find a second life. It's not too hard to see how this project might read better as a series of books rather than dealing with the constraints of the monthly system. Unfortunately, as DC tried to make assumptions that their readers were picking up series from Superman to Justice Society to Countdown, events referred to within the story will certainly be left out, such as the death of the time-transplanted Karate Kid.

In short, if DC planned for readers to follow what they were doing with the time-lost Legion storyline, they needed to clue readers into the fact that it was happening at all.

Don't touch Brainiac, Superman. You have no idea where he's been.

However... I believe I did read most of the tie-ins. In comparison to the sloppy continuity wreck that was the pre-Infinite Crisis world of Superman comics, I'll forgive some of the seeming rudderless-ness of Action and Superman of the past year in exchange for the scope of vision DC has employed in getting to The War of the Supermen.

This IS a strong disagreement of the super men!

So if the sprawling, series-spanning epic becomes too much for readers, what is the answer?

DC has a similar experiment underway in the Batman titles, but to be truthful, you can likely have skipped Batman for the past year and been none the poorer for it. I'm not reading Red Robin, Batgirl, Azrael or Gotham Sirens, and as long as I read Detective and Batman and Robin, I feel like I'm keeping up.

It would be a shame for editorial to go back to the idea that continuity doesn't matter, but it certainly doesn't seem the case that they're ready to quit minding the store again at this point.

Coming up, Lois's co-wokers watch her cavort with a guy who is not her husband.

In conclusion...

As a final note, Superman editor Matt Idleson participates in a column at the Superman Homepage wherein Superman fans can write in and ask questions. In the column, Idleson does a bit of a mea culpa, openly admitting that not all choices were great.

I think the drop in sales mostly tells us that readers didn't really cotton to the idea of Supes being replaced in his books. That's actually a portion of the reason we took the WAR event, which was slated to run monthly starting in June, and shifted it into May as a weekly event. We want to make sure we tell as satisfying a conclusion to the New Krypton stuff for the readers that have remained with us, while also shortening the length of time the story will take to tell.
For those of you who follow comics journalism, its kind of unheard of for editors and writers to not blame the fans when things go poorly, or to shrug and say they'll try harder next time. this reader, anyway, was impressed.

We'll see if War of the Supermen can complete the multi-year story begun by Geoff Johns. And it will be very interesting to see what the new creative teams have in store for June.